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Jul 28, 2015

Learning the ancient art of Sabaik Lakaoun Toch

Learning how to make puppets
Learning how to make puppets

 

Looking at the Past

 

During the period of the Khmer Rouge genocide, it is estimated that perhaps 90% of Cambodian artists died.

If you look at old photographs taken of the Royal ballet and the Royal musician's troupe some years before the Khmer Rouge took power, there are hundreds of people, smiling and hopeful, completely unaware of the future that awaits them. The capital Phnom Penh in the 1960's was not only a hub of traditional music and dance, but also in nearly every Pagoda in the countryside there was a Pin Peat orchestra, the villages had their own Mohori and Plein Ka wedding ensembles and one could be sure that there would be a marvellous shadow puppet troupe in the Province, touring from village to village.

Cambodia was also the epicentre of rock and roll, with the King himself an enthusiastic musicians and composer, fusions of musical influence from abroad thrived in this beautiful country. Famous singers such as Sim Sissamouth sang popular songs. There was an acceptance and harmony between old and new.

First came the overthrow of King Sihanouk by General Lon Nol and the descent into corruption and war with the Khmer Rouge guerillas, who graduallly overtook Cambodia, then the secret bombing of Cambodia under US Presdient Nixon and Seretary of State Kissinger, causing over one million refugees to flood into the capital Phnom Penh. Then from 1975 - 1979 the Khmer Rouge took power and evacuated the capital Phnom Penh forcing the entire population of Cambodia to live in the countryside. Cambodian artists were among the first to be executed. It is said that the singer Sim Sissamouth was forced to dig his own grave. A beautiful ballet dancer who danced a duet with the son of the King was decapitated and the list is so long, that it has never been compiled or completed. Only at the end of the regime, was such a great emptiness and the few survivors began looking for each other and trying to rebuild from scratch a history which had spanned over 1000 years.

 

Sabaik Lakoun Toch (Shadow Puppetry)

Today in our school we have several tradiitonal cultural formations, including the tuition of Pin Peat music, Plein Ka and Mohori music, Traditional Cambodian ballet, folk dance, ancient Yike dance and theatre, Trott dance and Chayyam dance. These art forms are taught by skilled Cambodian teachers who come from the National Theatre and Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. For a long time we have wanted to add to our teaching curriculum the art of Shadow puppetry.

It is thought that this art dates back at least a thousand years. Shadow puppetry still brings great pleasure and is much loved by Cambodian people, however in the Province of Kampot where our school is based, there are no surviving puppet artists at all and so no puppet troupe exists in the entire Province.

With the assistance of Cambodian Living Arts we have been running a workshop for our students and teachers, as well as local state school students and teachers on the art of making and performing Small Shadow puppets.

The puppet master comes from Sovannah Phum in Phnom Penh and he has been teaching how to cure cow leather, to paint it, cut it, draw puppet characters and ornament them, then make bamboo sticks to move each puppet. Shadow puppets are figures held up by thin sticks which propels the characters along. The performance takes place behind a lighted screen to the accompaniament of voice interpretations and Pin Peat music. Small shadow puppet theatre as opposed to Large puppet theatre (Sabak Lakoun Thom) gives artists the freedom to create themes and mix ancient characters and art forms with modern day social themes. In this way, especially for our school the process becomes highly educative.

Students not only learn handcraft skills in making the puppets, (therebye ensuring a vocational skill for the future and the continuation of this art form,) they also experience freedom of expression, have much fun and give lease to their creativity  in interpreting the voices of the characters. The creation of a theme which reflects current society, also offers teachers and students an opportunity to examine themselves and their surroundings, identifying areas which they feel need special attention, which can be AIDS prevention, the promotion of education for girls, the importance of education for all as a brighter future and so on.

On this course, our students and teachers have been enjoying themselves enormously and the puppet master has been quite suprised by their skills in learning. We can't wait to have our first puppet performance!

Although the course itself has been specifically sponsored, still we would not have been able to go ahead or even exist if  donors like yourself had not assisted us in the first place. We still have to feed, clothe, house and care for the many children at our school before any course can take place.

Therefore thank you for believing in our school and for all your generous help.

Concentrating
Concentrating
The finished result
The finished result
Buffalos, monkey and butterfly
Buffalos, monkey and butterfly

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May 29, 2015

Pheap's journey

Dance practice Pheap and friends
Dance practice Pheap and friends

Dear friends of Kampot Traditional Music School,

Thank you so much for your recent support, especially those of you who give regularly each month and those who participated in our special fundraising day on May 13th!

As you all know our Outreach program has several programs, not only for our 400 disadvantaged children from Kampot town and rural areas, but also our 10 blind Mohori music students and our 20 scholarship students from very poor and vulnerable rural backgrounds.

In this month's report, we would like to especially remember one of our scholarship students, Pheap. First she came to our school on our free arts training program for children from rural areas including Chumkriel and TrayKoh. Our school coordinated with the local head monk of the Pagoda school and local primary state school director. Pheap came as a little girl around the year 2000, small and quiet, but soon she shone at Pin Peat music and revealed a great talent and determination. It then came to light that she had significant family problems with an abusive and alcoholic father and was extremely poor. It was decided by her family and our school that Pheap should come to live at our school as a scholarship student under our protection.

Not only did Pheap excel at music, she also attained top grades in her academic studies, going on to gain her high school Baccalaureate and win a place at the Angkor Khemara University of Kampot. Her difficult family status and her talent earned her a scholarship at university. She graduated in 2012. Today she is an accountant at a local school, she is married and has a baby son. Pheap often drops by our school to say hello to her former teachers, because we are a part of her family. Pheap (which is not her full name), kindly gave permission for us to write about her in this month's report.

Invitation by Ministry of Culture to perform for ASEAN Conference

Our school was invited to select one of our most talented students from our Mohori music program for blind children, to perform participate in the ASEAN Conference to be held in Thailand in July/August of this year. Our student who is now an adolescent will be accompanied by our Pin Peat teacher and a carer. Together with our Pin Peat teacher he will perform 5 Mahori songs for the conference and then participate in workshops. The ASEAN Conference "Art for All" is on the occasion of Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindihorn's 60th birthday and is being held to promote the important cultural imput by disabled artists in Southeast Asia. We all feel so excited and honoured by this invitation and the possibility to promote Cambodian traditional music abroad! We promise to post photos after the event!!

Please do keep on supporting us. Your help is truly precious and provides an important part of our needs, helping us to reach out to so many children in Kampot!

From all of us at the Kampot Traditional Music School - Thank You!

Pheap at school
Pheap at school

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May 11, 2015

The boy who walked 25km to be at our school

Vy N and his friends play football at our school
Vy N and his friends play football at our school

 

Dear friends and supporters of Kampot Traditional Music School,

 

The Boy who walked 25km to be at our School

In 1997, three years after the opening of our school, we housed two young sisters who had been abandoned by their mother. Their father, who was a musician had died when they where very young. Two years after 1997 their mother returned out of the blue from the island of Koh Kong. Our school helped the girls establish a loving relationship with their mother and overcome their sense of abandonement. Sadly their mother was very ill with Tuberculosis, although we helped her treatment in the local hospital, she developed a resistance to the illness and it spread very quickly into her internal organs and she died in great pain from TB of the liver.

These two girls who originally came from a remote part of Chumkiri District in Kampot, also had two brothers. One was grown up and kept their patch of land cultivated, but the other was their age and wanted to come to our school. We had waited, while their mother was ill, so as not to disturb the family balance and to respect the rights of their mother to be with her children.

One morning not so long after her death, the younger boy Vy N. suddenly turned up at our school. He had walked by foot from his remote village at the foot of the mountains in Chumkiri all the way to Kampot town, a distance of over 25 km. He had walked all night and in the early hours of the morning was stopped at a police checkpoint (because there was still civil war in the area) at the entrance of the town. Taking pity on this young boy, the police kindly gave him breakfast and then set him on his way.

Vy N. applied himself with a quiet determination and excelled in Mohori music, Folk Dance and Painting. We tried to get him enrolled on the arts course at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, but because he had not attended as a young child, he did not receive a place. Therefore we hired a local artist to give him lessons in drawing and painting, until the local artist moved from Kampot.

Vy N is now a young man and together with his younger sister Vy L they have formed a traditional wedding music ensemble in Kampot and earn a living performing at weddings and festivals in traditional Cambodian style. The older sister who went to university now teaches dance for a South-African NGO. Additonally Vy N is also part of an amazing fusion band, which combines his Tro Sau instrument with guitar, vocals and drums. The band consists of two Cambodians including himself and a former outreach student at our school, two Western musicans and a singer from China! The group is incredibly popular with foreign visitors to Kampot and the location where he plays becomes full of guests who listen for hours to the band. He has become famous and is known as the "Best musican in Kampot".  Who would ever guess that this talented man was once a very shy, quiet boy who walked so far, determined to get to our school and study music!

 

Invitation by the Ministry of Culture to perform at ASEAN Conference in Thailand

 

Recently the Minister of Culture invited our school to register for the ASEAN Conference in Thailand "Art for All" which will be held in August. We will be accompanying one of our very talented Mohori music students who is blind, to go and give a recital at this conference together with our Pin Peat teacher. It is a great honour for our school to be invited and a wonderful opportunity for our student.

 

Fundraising Day 13th May

 

On Wednesday 13th May we will be holding a special Fundraising Day with GlobalGiving, who will match all donations. This time instead of the first donations being matched, GlobalGiving will wait until the end of the event and match all donations, this ensures that each donations gets matched and not only those who donate first. Please Participate! We really need your help! The event starts at 09:00am Washington DC time and ends the same day at 11.59 pm.

 

Dear friends, thank you all for having donated these last months and for all those who have given to us regularly each month. Thank you all for having faith in our school and supporting our children. We are so grateful.

 

From everyone at the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children - Khmer Cultural Development Institute

With his friends at school in the garden
With his friends at school in the garden

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