When we bid farewell to Thai Royalty on their last journey on earth, the music must be appropriate to the ranking of the departed. Conventional wisdom also requires that the music be traditional. Unlike royalty in Europe — perhaps most famously the late Diana, Princess of Wales, whose funeral featured Candle in the Wind, performed by Elton John — no member of the Thai Royal Family has been sent off by a specially-commissioned work.
HRH the late Princess Galyani Vadhana will be bid farewell with all honours due to her ranking as elder sister to His Majesty the King. The procession of the Royal Urn from the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall to Sanam Luang will be led and trailed by two marching bands of the Royal Thai Army. The procession itself comprises musicians and officials of the Royal Household. The train of soldiers, civilians and musicians in full mourning clothes complete their mission on arrival at Sanam Luang.
There, at the field reserved for Royal Funerals, ensembles featuring members of the Fine Arts Department, the Royal Household and an assembly of musicians attached to Suan Pakkard Palace will take over the mourning. The use of the Pi Phat Mon (ปี่พาทย์มอญ) ensemble, of the Wong Paettaya Kosol (วงพาทยโกศล), is a departure from the last Royal Funeral, of the Princess Mother, in 1996.
These three ensembles will take turns providing music from the time the Royal Urn arrives at Sanam Luang on November 15 through the cremation proper, later that day, until the Royal Relics and Ashes are collected early the next day and taken for safekeeping at the Rangsi Vadhana Royal Cemetery at Wat Rachabophit Sathit- mahasimaram on November 19.
Long before the pyre is lit, the focus will be on the procession of the Royal Urn, which has been prepared with the meticulous attention to detail that the occasion requires. The Royal Urn will be carried out of Dhevapirom Gate, passing landmarks such as the Ministry of Defence and the City Pillar, to Sanam Luang, which for all the sad events it has witnessed is like the heart of Bangkok.
The music to bid farewell to Princess Galayani begins right at the moment when the Golden Urn (พระโกศทองใหญ่) is lowered from its stand in the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall, says Rungroat Mitreevong, head of the unit overseeing storage of Royal Regalia (ฝ่ายคลังราชพัสดุพิธี) under the Fine Arts Section of the Royal Household.
The Haw Hae (ฮ้อแฮ), a lament that has accompanied the last journey of royalty since King Rama V a hundred years ago, is performed by the Siamese bugle (แตรงอน), bugle (แตรฝรั่ง) and conch shell (สังข์). Thereafter, the Siamese bugle and the bugle sound the Haw Hae only at important junctions along the route. On cue, the conch shell subsequently plays another lament, called Krabork Thong (กระบอกทอง), that weaves into the Haw Hae.
While these three instruments are heard only at strategic junctures, the quaint wind instrument called Pi Chanai (ปี่ไฉน), or Siamese oboe, wails throughout the journey from beginning to end. Nang Rong Hai (นางร้องไห้) is the name of the sad song this reed instrument produces.
Two musicians take turns playing the instrument, which sounds like an oboe but looks more like a short soprano recorder that opens out like a trumpet. They have been selected from a pool of only four people who can play it in the division of Royal Regalia (กองเครื่องสูง) at the Royal Household Bureau. The instrument, made of ivory, is only played at royal occasions, although a more modest version is used at the funerals of senior officials. The instrument’s reed, or kampuat (กำพวด), is made of palm leaf (ใบตาล).
The Pi Chanai provides the cue for the drums to come in. The first of these is the Perng Mang (เปิงมาง), or Burmese drum, which beats a particular marching rhythm: ping ... perng ... pruad (crotchet, crotchet, minim)
perng ... ping ... perng ... ping ... (crotchet, crotchet, crotchet, crotchet)
perng, perng, pruad, ping (two quavers, minim, crochet)
On the cue of these victory drums, the Klong Chana (กลองชนะ) enters. Some are painted gold, others silver, others still in red and gold as befits the ranking of the late Princess.
The brass instruments and conch shell are due to take part in processions numbers 1 and 2 on November 15, and 4 and 5 on November 16 and 18 respectively; 52 players will be in processions on November 15 while only 18 players are due on November 18.
Procession number 3 circum-ambulates the Royal Crematorium.
Procession number 6, made of motorcars led by horses, takes the late Princess’s ashes to the Rangsi Vadhana Royal Cemetery at the Ratchabopit Sathimahasimaram Temple (วัดราชบพิธ).
The percussion instruments join processions 1 and 2 on November 15, and processions 4 and 5 on November 16 and November 18. These include 120 and 200 Klong Chana in processions 1 and 2, and 40 in processions 4 and 5.
There will be two Perng Mang drummers in processions 1, 2 and 4. In procession 5, there will only be one player. Processions 1 and 2 are due to take about three-and-a-half hours to travel from the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall to the crematorium at Sanam Luang.
In the pavilion opposite the pyre, two ensembles — Pi Phat Nang Hong (ปี่พาทย์นางหงส์) and Pi Phat Mon — will take turns performing laments. A smaller ensemble — Wong Bua Loi (วงบัวลอย) — will play during the cremation proper, says Sirichaicharn Fachamroon, adviser to the working group on the late Princess’s funeral and former director-general of the Fine Arts Department.
Among others, the Pi Phat Nang Hong is expected to play a suite of five pieces: Phram Keb Hua Waen (พราหมณ์เก็บหัวแหวน), Sao Sord Waen (สาวสอดแหวน), Krabork Thong (กระบอกทอง), Khu Malaengwan Thong (คู่แมลงวันทอง) and Malaengwan Thong (แมลงวันทอง).
The Pi Phat Mon players have in their repertoire Pleng Pracham Wat (เพลงประจำวัด) and Pleng Pracham Ban (เพลงประจำบ้าน) respectively, music to perform at the temple or at home, and pleng prakhome (เพลงประโคม), or miscellaneous pieces.
“These two ensembles [Pi Phat Nang Hong and Pi Phat Mon] have to prepare a great deal of music as their services will be required for many hours before the cremation, after the cremation, during the collection of the ashes and through the transport of the ashes to the Royal Cemetery,” observes Dr Sirichaicharn, PhD, Development Education, Chulalongkorn University.
The Wong Bua Loi will play during the ceremonial cremation, to be presided over in the late afternoon by Their Majesties the King and Queen, and the cremation proper some hours later.
For students or aficionados of traditional Thai music, the ceremonies on November 15, 16 and 18 will be a veritable feast for the eyes and ears. They will see and hear for themselves the rare and treasured instruments, refresh themselves on the compositions of respective ensembles and hear how they perform in sequence and interplay with each other.
A large number of musicians will be involved at various times on those three days. The Royal Thai Army’s marching bands comprise 168 persons, 84 for each band. Besides the two Pi Chanai players, the Royal Household will field 70 others on the bugle, 36 on the Siamese bugle, 14 on the conch shell and 200 on victory drums of various colours.
From the pavilion at Sanam Luang, there will be another five dozen musicians attached to the Pi Phat Nang Hong, Pi Phat Mon and Wong Bua Loi.
The Pi Phat Nang Hong is a variation on the ordinary Pi Phat, or ensemble combining wind, keyboard and per-cussion instruments. The Pi Phat Nang Hong features the pi chawa (ปี่ชวา), or Javanese oboe, rather than the Pi Nai (ปี่ใน), or soprano oboe, best remembered as the instrument played by Phra Abhaimanee, hero of the Sunthorn Phu epic story. The ensemble also uses a pair of Klong Thad (กลองทัด) or timpani, the male drum pitched higher than the female, rather than a Taphon (ตะโพน) or two sided drum. They will sound a rhythm special to nang hong music.
The Wong Bua Loi comprises four instruments of the wind and percussion families: A Pi Chawa (ปี่ชวา), two Klong Malayu (กลองมลายู) and Meng (เหม่ง), or cymbals struck with a stick.
The Royal Thai Army’s marching band that leads the procession will play a slow march penned in 1910 by HRH Prince Paribatra Sukhumbhandu, Prince of Nagor Svarga. The march is based on the traditional lament Pleng Phya Sok (เพลงพญาโศก), according to Royal Thai Army archives. The Prince’s version, longer than the traditional lament, was written in 1910, in time for the funeral of Somdej Phra Sriwarindhara Baromrachinee Phra Punpi Luang (สมเด็จพระศรีสวรินทราบรมราชินี พระพันปีหลวง).
Previously, a slow march of Western origin had been used, and the Prince thought it inappropriate. After he completed this funeral version of the traditional Phayasok lament, he asked for it to become a national lament to be used at the funerals of royalty and commoners alike, the army notes, citing the book released on the occasion of the Prince’s funeral at Sanam Luang on April 10, 1950.
Eighty-eight years after the Prince turned a well-known lament into a funeral march, Thais and admirers of Thailand will see how the work has withstood the test of time. With all the music that will play on November 15, 16 and 18, the late Princess Galyani will be given a farewell that is fond and noble.