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Thailand's first music school



The College of Music at Mahidol University is certainly not for 'losers'


During 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 and Musicology".

"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 today."

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 age.

"There 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 Salaya."

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 careers.

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."

After 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 same subject."

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 younger listeners.

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."

In 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 international recognition.

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.

Another 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 TPO.

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 Sugree said:

"From 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."


Post Date : April 1, 2008

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