College of Music at Mahidol University
is certainly not for 'losers'
the forthcoming university entrance
examinations, you will be able
to see thousands of teenagers
armed with books and stationery,
gathering in front of cram schools
in and around Siam Square. While
most will be dreaming of careers
as doctors, lawyers or engineers,
if you are looking for someone
who wants to become a professional
musician, then Salaya, Nakhon
Pathom, is the place to go.
Only 30 minutes' drive from
Bangkok, Mahidol University's
Salaya campus houses the College
of Music. For 14 years, this music
academy has been renowned as the
first music conservatory in Thailand,
offering various degrees in orchestral
and Thai music.
The College of Music originated
from a master's degree programme
in cultural studies with the emphasis
on music, which was offered by
the university in 1989. Three
years later, the programme was
expanded, and the degree renamed
"Master of Arts in Music,
concentrating on Music Education
"Studying music is not
for 'losers' any more," said
the college's director Dr Sugree
Charoensook, with conviction.
"We've been used to thinking
that only the hopeless kids at
the back of the classroom would
go to music school and make a
living as a poor musician. Here
at the College of Music, we show
people that it's totally different
The undergraduate programme started
in 1998, and offered studies in
performance, jazz, Thai and Oriental
music, and music technology. In
2001, the pre-college programme
was started to discover and nurture
talented musicians from a young
are so many young kids who have
musical talent. What they need
is a good place to study and good
teachers," said Dr Somchai
Trakarnrung, deputy director for
Research and Academic Affairs.
"We've hired professional
musicians from all over the world
to teach Thai students here in
After five years of teaching
trumpet at the college, Asst Prof
Dr Joseph Bowman, a professional
musician turned teacher, revealed
to "Outlook" his impression
of Thai students. "Thai kids
start to learn music around the
age of 13 or 14, while Americans
start around the age of 10 or
11," he noted.
"Although they start later
than American kids, they catch
up very quickly. And Thai students
are very disciplined."
Determination is much in evidence
at the college. While other high
school students struggle through
their last year, wondering what
they want to study or which university
they should apply to, students
at the College of Music are well
on their way towards their chosen
Eighteen-year-old Wara Thepnarong
moved from his hometown in Krabi
when he was 15 with his beloved
ranad ek, or Thai xylophone. "My
passion has always been to play
the ranad ek. Once I finished
Mathayom 3, I immediately applied
to study at this school - its
reputation is outstanding."
three years in the pre-college
programme, Wara proved his talent
by winning two first prizes in
Thai music competitions. When
asked what his next step will
be, Wara replied without missing
a beat: "I'll continue here.
I've just passed the entrance
examination and will be a first-year
student next term studying the
The lifestyle of students at the
College of Music is very different
from their peers in Siam Square.
Everywhere you walk you will see
students singing or playing all
day. Obviously music is a very
large part of their lives.
"I don't have much free time,"
said Pattraporn "Nice"
Aupaiboon, a 17-year-old student
studying the euphonium. "When
I'm free, I practise, even if
just for 10 minutes. That's why
I've lost all my old friends ...
I never have time to hang out
with them," she laughed.
"But it's fine, I understand.
Besides, I have friends here who
have the same lifestyle, like
friends from Mupop."
Nice was referring to a student
band, formed in 2006, of which
she is a member. Poltarayuth Tippayuth,
musical director of the Mahidol
University Pop Orchestra, or Mupop,
explained that the band is a combination
of big band and orchestra, with
the idea of turning orchestral
music into pop, to try to reach
Mupop has been performing at charity
events, and has occasionally been
hired to perform professionally.
One of its proudest performances
was at the opening of the World
University Games 2007, hosted
by Thammasat University.
"We're very supportive of
our students' activities. Some
of them are extremely talented
and have even been accepted to
study abroad," said Wisit
Chitrangsan, activity manager
at the college. "They need
a stage to perform on and let
the world see their talents."
2006, the spirit of the college
was portrayed on film by director
Nithiwat Tharathorn, whose movie
Seasons Change: Phror arkad plian
plang boi was a great success.
The movie is based on the lives
of pre-college students at the
college and tells the story of
a young boy trying to hide from
his parents the fact that he has
been accepted to a music school,
not a medical school, as is afraid
this may disappoint them.
With the success of the movie,
the college became widely recognised,
not least by students in Thailand.
But the college's fame is not
just derived from movie, but also
from the hard work of the students
who have achieved domestic and
The Dr Sax Chamber Orchestra,
formed in 1997, is a good example.
The band won first prize at the
International Youth Chamber Music
Competition in 2005, in the city
of Interlaken, Switzerland. It
was the only orchestra from an
Asian country to win.
success story is the Thailand
Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO),
claimed by Sugree to be the first
professional orchestra in the
world run by a university. Acclaimed
soloists and conductors from around
the world are constantly invited
to perform with the TPO, confirming
its standards and professionalism.
With a planned list of concerts
and recordings in the coming year,
the TPO aims to earn not only
a national but also an international
reputation, as well as lifting
the orchestral music scene in
Thailand to new heights.
Music of all styles and genres,
from Western to Oriental, as well
as new compositions, have been
selected for performance by the
Many students of the college
have moved on to bigger and better
things - some have been granted
scholarships to further their
musical studies abroad, and others
have become members of the TPO
or other orchestras. But the proof
is in the performance, and as
now on, music should be known
as a science of philosophy, it
should never again be a career
'from the street' like they used
to call it."
Date : April 1, 2008