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Chamber music for the Thai masses
Publication Date : 25-08-2013
Jeeb, a recently formed group of young Thai musicians are out to prove the chamber music is for all
A group of young Thai musicians set out to show that there's nothing snobbish about listening to chamber music
Ordinary Thai folks are not generally known for their love of Western classical music. Jeeb, a recently formed group of young musicians, is setting out to change that by proving that chamber sounds are not just for the elite.
"Our aim is to make classical music more enjoyable, listenable and fashionable. We want it to be a lifestyle choice for the new generation," says Thaweewet "Paye" Srinarong, a violinist with the group.
"We want them to realise that classical music isn't just for the upper classes but for everybody. In fact, it isn't really all that different from other genres, as it expresses the same emotions of melancholy, pain and happiness," adds Christopher Janwong McKiggan, a pianist of Thai-Chinese-Scottish ancestry who lives in Texas.
The idea for Jeeb was conceived three years ago while Thaweewet was studying for his PhD and playing music in New York. There he joined up with Carnegie Hall viola player Miti "Mek" Wisuthumporn. Most of the other members of the group have spent time in the US and Europe and many still live there: cellist Ekachai "Palm" Maskulrat in Switzerland, violinist Kanin "Dan" Udommana in Austria, and bassist Nuttaphon "Yu" Lerswanuswong in the US.
"Jeeb is like a musical journey with each of us reaching out from our homes in Asia, Europe and America. We've all been playing for more than 10 years and share a dream of playing classical music and making it popular," Thaweewet says.
"We are confident we can do it too. I've been involved in the entertainment circle for five years and together with my two sisters formed the classical-crossover band Vie Trio. Our music, which blends classical music with pop, has gone down well with audiences.
"So I have a good understanding of what the Thai people need. I really think the time has come for younger people to for open their hearts and to express greater individuality rather than just follow the crowd."
Thailand does of course have its own classical orchestras. The Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, which evolved out of the Pro Musica Quartet, founded by ML Usni Pramoj and his friends in the late 1950s, has been delighting audiences for more than 30 years.
Thaweewet enjoys their music but finds the musicians wooden. "Their faces are devoid of emotion when they play even though the music is making them happy. That's the way it is with orchestras. But today's audiences want more. We have to entertain them too so they don't just sit and listen but also come alive."
"We perform with all our hearts and with a feeling of enjoyment. I tell my musicians to smile so the audience knows we are having fun," says pianist, and composer Trisdee Na Patalung, who is best known for his work with such groups as the Bangkok Opera and Siam Philharmonic. He recently conducted an orchestra in a concert featuring symphonic arrangements of songs by alternative rock band moderndog with the band's frontman Tanachai "Pod" Ujjin.
"When classical music is enjoyable, the audience has a great time," Trisdee adds.
Thaweewet would like Jeeb to become as popular as South Korea's chamber outfit, Ensemble Ditto.
"The band members look good and present themselves like a boy band but play pure classical music. And even though Ensemble Ditto really only plays classical sounds, the Korean people accept and love them. They've become part of Korea's pop culture through their presentation and music videos.
"We've had to come up with a gimmick that's different from Ensemble Ditto, because of the difference in consumer behaviour," says Thaweewet. "Trisdee and I have experience in performing concerts of various music styles of classical, pop and crossover. I don't think popularity necessarily comes from the genre but the image the musicians put across."
Jeeb is taking part in "Bangkok Loves Classics", a project initiated by the Rama IX Art Museum Foundation aimed to persuade Bangkokians to turn to classical music.
They'll start promoting the project in November with a road show and master classes at several educational institutions and wind up with two full-scale concerts in Bangkok.
The first show on December 17 will have a carnival theme and the second, five days later, will focus on love.
"For the carnival concert, we'll play classical music and also tell some stories by showing scenes of animals at work and at play. It will be very entertaining so it's suitable for all members of the family. I can guarantee that it will be different from the classical concerts performed here and elsewhere. Most of the sets are based on classical music but there'll also be a strong pop element," says Thaweewet.
And while Jeeb's immediate goal is to conquer the hearts of the Thai people, they don't plan to stop there.
"We're aiming at the international market too," Thaweewet says.