Thai classical music innovator: Utis Narksawat

After a PhD in agricultural economics, he studied with music legend Luang Pradit Phairo & went on to invent new instruments & styles of playing.

The 90th birth anniversary of Utis Narksawat is a grand music event involving a wide array of students and professional musicians at Kasetsart University’s Agricultural Culture Museum tomorrow, from 2pm.

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Music

When worlds collided

A concert will mark the 90th anniversary of pioneering Thai composer Utis Narksawat's birth
29 Mar 2013
Ploenpote Atthakor

Master Utis Narksawat playing the zither.

The late Utis Narksawat, who died in 1982, was a man of two worlds.

He was a well-rounded musician, a composer and master who accumulated his knowledge in an old, traditional learning system.

In the non-music world, he was a successful economist who finished his graduate studies in agricultural cooperatives. He received a doctorate degree in agricultural economy from Cornell University in 1957 and came back to work at Kasetsart University.

Born in 1923 in Samut Songkhram's Amphawa district, the birthplace of so many great musicians, including the legendary maestro Luang Pradit Phairoh, Eua Sunthornsanan, the young Utis had his first music lessons with his father, Sangwan Narksawat. He was initially trained as a zither player. He later learned three-stringed fiddle with Phraya Bhumisevin (Jit Jittasewin) and in 1945 joined the Ban Bat conservatoire of Luang Pradit Phairoh (Sorn Silpabanleng) where he had a chance to learn - and sharpen his skills in - all kinds of musical instruments. Utis was one of the last students of Luang Pradit Phairoh. Undoubtedly, he was a successful case.

Ajarn Utis playing the three-string fiddle with the Kasetsart University ensemble.

"He excelled at zither and the three-stringed fiddle," said Anant Narkkong, ethnomusicologist at Silpakorn University and leader of the Korphai ensemble.

He was a great composer, with more than 100 songs to his credit. Some of them he developed into tao (music with complete three-tempo pieces) songs, many were new works like Yunnan Ramluek, a lively Chinese-accented piece.

With his avant-garde approach, Ajarn Utis did not care much about tradition in making his music.

His proficiency made people think that he completed his formal education in music.

He made ardent efforts to secure space and time for Thai classical music in the media. He hosted a series of music programmes on television and radio. His programme made this mode of music more accessible to the new generation.

"Ajarn Utis not only created Thai classical musicians, he also created a new audience," said Anant.

In his capacity as a founding member of the Musical Artists Welfare Association, Utis was a key force behind the launch of the wai khru and a prachan pi paat competition at Wat Phra Phiren in 1969. A "must" annual event for people in Thai traditional music society up to the present day, the competition is a place where young talents can make their name.

Besides, Ajarn Utis was the one who gave life to the Thai classical music clubs in higher education. There were five institutes, Kasetsart, Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Silpakorn and Mahidol, at the beginning. Now all universities have a Thai musical club. With the clubs spreading in universities across the country, there emerged an annual music gathering, which the clubs hosted in turn.

On top of that, with his progressiveness, Ajarn Utis made a huge contribution to music education with the development of modern teaching media, tape and video tape recording which was rare in that era.

"His audio, as well as visual technique made learning much easier for students," said Anant.

A collection of record works by Thailand's top musical artists including Yod Polkerd and National Artist Uthai Kaewlaiad, are still kept in the master's studio on Sam Sen Road. Anant said the works, on original tape reels, are valuable items for a museum or a library.

He noted that Utis' relentless quest for new creations and incessant attempts to upgrade Thai music make him different from other Thai musicians.

"He made a bold move that challenged those musicians who clung on to old tradition," said Anant. Among the changes introduced by the master was a sitting position for Thai musicians. At times, his ensemble members sat on chairs, not on the floor.

One of his noteworthy inventions is the 14 semitone ranad - a break from the typical seven equidistant format ranad. The instrument is part of a percussion quintet that he formed as a "Thai gamelan" at that time.

The music circle reluctantly received Ajarn Utis' invention.

"He must have made several trials before this instrument came out. The instrument was too advanced for people in that generation. It's unfortunate that the master did not live long enough to see how it could accommodate music of this era," Anat said.

Tomorrow, Anant's Korphai ensemble will join a music event held by Kasetsart University to commemorate the master's 90th birth anniversary at the university's Bang Khen campus.

The ensemble will perform and bring the 14-semitone ranad to the public eye, for the first time since Utis' death in 1982.

Performing on the special instrument will be Tossapon Tassana, a percussion instructor at the Luang Pradit Phairoh music club, playing the piece Yunnan Ramluek, a vivid, Chinese-accented song composed by the master. Rearranging and re-interpreting the long-forgotten piece, which is set to be the concert's highlight, is renowned musician Chaibhak Bhatarachinda, also a Korphai member.

In Anant's opinion, the instrument and the song are a perfect match for the re-introduction.

"Yunnan Ramluek is vibrant and colourful. It will captivate the audience in such a special event," he said

(Source: Bangkok Post, Music, When worlds collided, A concert will mark the 90th anniversary of pioneering Thai composer Utis Narksawat's birth, 29 Mar 2013, Ploenpote Atthakor, link


Thai Classical Music Vocabulary

Thai classical music - the formal music of the King of Thailand's court (See Wikipedia)
Thai classical music clubs

musical instrument  - เครื่องดนตรีไทย
traditional Thai musical instruments - เครื่องดนตรีไทย (See Wikipedia)

zither -  "a plucked zither used in Thai music. It is made of wood in a crocodile shape ... Its highest two strings are made of silk yarn or nylon and lowest is made of brass. ... The player uses his or her left hand on the fretboard while plucking the string by his right hand with a tapered plectrum made from ivory or water buffalo horn, which is tied to the player's index finger. The instrument has a buzzing sound because the strings are raised just off the flat bridge by a sliver of bamboo or other thin material such as plasti" .จะเข้ (See Wikipedia)

three-string fiddle - the three-string spike fiddle with coconut shell body; used in Thai classical music ซอสามสาย   (See Wikipedia & photos)

ranad -
 the Thai xylophone; a percussion instrument played with two mallets ระนาด  (See Wikipedia)
14 semitone ranad instrument

ethnomusicology - the study of non-western traditional music (Asia, European folk music, African music, etc) (See Wikipedia)
ethnomusicologist - a person who does ethnomusicology

musician - a person who plays music on an instrument or sings songs นักดนตรี
Thai classical music musicians

professional - doing some activity for a living (to make money from doing it, in order to support you and your family)
professional musicians

music composer - a person who writes new music นักแต่งเพลง

birth anniversary
The 90th birth anniversary of Utis Narksawat

grand - very big ใหญ่โต
a grand music event

a wide array of - a variety of..., many different kinds of ...
a grand music event involving a wide array of students and professional musicians

The 90th birth anniversary of Utis Narksawat is a grand music event involving a wide array of students and professional musicians at Kasetsart University’s Agricultural Culture Museum tomorrow, from 2pm.

perform - play an instrument
performing on the zither

performance - playing a musical instrument or singing in front of an audience for a period of time
musical performance

Korphai ensemble rehearses for the grand performance. At far left is Tossaporn Tassana, playing the 14 semitone ranad instrument, invented by Ajarn Utis.

collide - when two things hit each other
when worlds collided

pioneering - being the first person to do something
pioneering Thai composer

mark - to show that something is happening or happened เป็นการเริ่มต้น เป็นเครืองแสดง show respect for or commemorate it & celebrate it ฉลอง
anniversary - a date when you celebrate something that happened in a previous year that is important to you วันครบรอบ

mark an anniversary
mark
the 90th anniversary

A concert will mark the 90th anniversary of pioneering Thai composer Utis Narksawat's birth

late - dead ที่ล่วงลับไปแล้ว
The late Utis Narksawat, who died in 1982, was a man of two worlds

well-rounded - having many different skills (not just one very specialized skill)
well-rounded musician

composer - music composer; a person who writes new music to play
master - a person who is very good at something ปรมาจารย์

accumulated -
collecting together; adding to and gathering together many things to one place
accumulated knowledge

traditional - things (clothes, music, customs, etc.) that have been part of a country or society for a long time
traditional learning system

He was a well-rounded musician, a composer and master who accumulated his knowledge in an old, traditional learning system.

In the non-music world, he was a successful economist who finished his graduate studies in agricultural cooperatives. He received a doctorate degree in agricultural economy from Cornell University in 1957 and came back to work at Kasetsart University.

initially - at first; at the beginning ในเบื้องต้น ในระยะต้น
He was initially trained as a zither player.

skills - a type of work or task requiring special training and knowledge ทักษะ ความสามารถเฉพาะทาง
sharpen his skills - get better, improve skills

legendary - ver famous
maestro - as very skilled musician
the legendary maestro Luang Pradit Phairoh

have a chance - to have an opportunity to
had a chance to learn
he had a chance to learn - and sharpen his skills in - all kinds of musical instruments.

Born in 1923 in Samut Songkhram's Amphawa district, the birthplace of so many great musicians, including the legendary maestro Luang Pradit Phairoh, Eua Sunthornsanan, the young Utis had his first music lessons with his father, Sangwan Narksawat. He was initially trained as a zither player. He later learned three-stringed fiddle with Phraya Bhumisevin (Jit Jittasewin) and in 1945 joined the Ban Bat conservatoire of Luang Pradit Phairoh (Sorn Silpabanleng) where he had a chance to learn - and sharpen his skills in - all kinds of musical instruments. Utis was one of the last students of Luang Pradit Phairoh. Undoubtedly, he was a successful case.

excelled at - be very good at something; very skilled
he excelled at the zither and the three-stringed fiddle

"He excelled at the zither and the three-stringed fiddle," said Anant Narkkong, ethnomusicologist at Silpakorn University and leader of the Korphai ensemble

to his credit ... - one of the good things he did ...
a great composer, with more than 100 songs to his credit

accent - 1. when stress, emphasis is given to something (said more strongly); 2. speaking language in a way that shows where you are from (British accent, for example) 
a lively Chinese-accented piece

He was a great composer, with more than 100 songs to his credit. Some of them he developed into tao (music with complete three-tempo pieces) songs, many were new works like Yunnan Ramluek, a lively Chinese-accented piece.

avant-garde -
art that is very modern and shocks people
approach - a way of doing or dealing with something การจัดการกับปัญหา วิธีการทำให้ถึงจุดหมาย
an avant-garde approach

tradition
did not care much about tradition in making his music.

With his avant-garde approach, Ajarn Utis did not care much about tradition in making his music.

formal education - education in schools being taught things by teachers (not learning by yourself through books or at your job, for example)
formal education in music
completed his formal education in music

proficiency
His proficiency made people think that he completed his formal education in music.


classical - of recognized authority or excellence because it came from the most highly developed stage of an earlier civilisation and its culture, examples: classical literature, classical architecture, in the West refers to the Greek and Roman eras

series - a set of TV broadcasts on the same subject or using the same characters but in different situations หนังชุด
accessible - can be used by
generation - a group of people in society who are born and live around the same time รุ่น (คนรุ่นต่างๆ)

efforts - the work done towards achieving some goal; people trying to accomplish something, achieve a goal ความพยายาม
ardent efforts
made ardent efforts to

media - radio, television, newspaper, the Internet, considered as a group สื่อ
space and time in the media

secure - to get or achieve something important เพื่อเป็นประกันว่า
secure space and time in the media

he made ardent efforts to secure space and time for Thai classical music in the media.

hosted
s
eries 
He hosted a series of music programmes on television and radio.

generation
.
the new generation.

accessible

make accessible
make more accessible to the new generation.

mode
a mode of music
His programme made this mode of music more accessible to the new generation.

He made ardent efforts to secure space and time for Thai classical music in the media. He hosted a series of music programmes on television and radio. His programme made this mode of music more accessible to the new generation.

audience - the people who watch an event happen ผู้ชม
 he created a new audience
Ajarn Utis not only created Thai classical musicians, he also created a new audience.

capacity - a particular position or job
In his capacity as ...

founding - starting an organisation, company, political party, etc.
founding member 
a founding member of the Musical Artists Welfare Association

annual - happening once a year ประจำปี
an annual event
a "must" annual event

launch - to start something เปิดโครงการ, เริ่มต้น, เริ่มทำ
the launch of the event


force - something that makes or causes something to happen 
a force behind

key - important คนสำคัญ
a key force behind ....

a key force behind the launch of the annual event

In his capacity as a founding member of the Musical Artists Welfare Association, Utis was a key force behind the launch of the wai khru and a prachan pi paat competition at Wat Phra Phiren in 1969. A "must" annual event for people in Thai traditional music society until today, the competition is a place where young talents can make their name.

higher education - university and college education (after high school and Matayom)
Thai classical music clubs in higher education

Besides, Ajarn Utis was the one who gave life to the Thai classical music clubs in higher education. There were five institutes, Kasetsart, Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Silpakorn and Mahidol, at the beginning.

gathering - a party or a meeting when many people come together as a group การรวมตัว, การประชุม
an annual music gathering

emerged - come into being; appeared ปรากฏออกมา ปรากฏให้เห็น
there emerged an annual music gathering

Now all universities have a Thai musical club. With the clubs spreading in universities across the country, there emerged an annual music gathering, which the clubs hosted in turn.

On top of that, .... - in addition to that ....

progressive
(adjective) - has ideas about changing and improving things (not conservative and wishing things to remain the same)
progressiveness
(noun)

contribution - something that you do that helps to achieve something or to make it successful ผลงาน,การช่วยเหลือ
made a huge contribution to music education

media
- some form of video or images
teaching media
modern teaching media

development - the gradual growth and formation of something
the development of modern teaching media

rare - uncommon, unusual ซึ่งหายาก not often seen or found หาได้ยาก   not happening very often ที่หาได้ยาก not happening very often หาได้ยาก
era - a period of time in the past

rare in that era
tape and video tape recording was
rare in that era

On top of that, with his progressiveness, Ajarn Utis made a huge contribution to music education with the development of modern teaching media, tape and video tape recording which was rare in that era.

records - before CDs and tapes used to record music and replay it
collection of record works

studio - a place where an artist works
the master's studio

kept on the original tape reels

valuable - worth a lot มีค่า
museum - a building where objects of historical, scientific or artistic interest are kept พิพิธภัณฑ์
valuable items for a museum or a library.

A collection of record works by Thailand's top musical artists including Yod Polkerd and National Artist Uthai Kaewlaiad, are still kept in the master's studio on Sam Sen Road. Anant said the works, on original tape reels, are valuable items for a museum or a library.

relentless - never giving up, never stopping until you achieved your goals
quest
- a search, looking for something until you find it
relentless quest
relentless quest for new creations

upgrade - improve; make new, modern, and up-to-date
upgrade Thai music

incessant - never stopping
attempts
- trying to do something

incessant attempts
incessant attempts to upgrade Thai music

He noted that Utis' relentless quest for new creations and incessant attempts to upgrade Thai music make him different from other Thai musicians.

bold - involving a risk; confident and unafraid กล้า ท้าทาย
made a bold move

cling  hold onto something very tight- toly and strongly with your arms and hands
cling to tradition
musicians who clung on to old tradition

"He made a bold move that challenged those musicians who clung on to old tradition," said Anant. Among the changes introduced by the master was sitting position of Thai musicians. At times, his ensemble members sat on chairs, not on the floor.

noteworthy - important enough that people should know about it
format - the arrangement, design or organisation of something รูปแบบ
instrument - a legal document
One of his noteworthy inventions is the 14 semitone ranad - a break from the typical seven equidistant format ranad. The instrument is part of percussion quintet that he formed as a "Thai gamelan" at that time.

the music circle
the circle of musicians

reluctantly - did it, but did not want to do it
The music circle reluctantly received Ajarn Utis' invention.

trials - tests, trying something to see if it works
"He must have made several trials before this instrument came out.

unfortunate - unlucky โชคร้าย, เคราะห์ไม่ดี
accommodate - do things to meet or satisfy the needs of another ปรับตัว or provide a place ให้ที่พักพิง

The instrument was too advanced for people in that generation. It's unfortunate that the master did not live long enough to see how it can accommodate music of this era.

commemorate - to remember officially and give respect to a great person or event, especially by a public ceremony or by making a statue or special building ฉลอง (เพื่อเป็นการระลึกถึง) to remember someone or something officially การระลึกถึง
commemorate the master's 90th birth anniversary

Tomorrow, Anant's Korphai ensemble will join a music event held by Kasetsart University to commemorate the master's 90th birth anniversary at the university's Bang Khen campus.

bring to the public eye
The ensemble will perform and bring the 14-semitone ranad to the public eye, for the first time since Utis' death in 1982.

vivid - having or producing very clear and detailed images in the mind ชัดเจน
a vivid, Chinese-accented song composed by the master

a musical piece
a piece of music
the long-forgotten piece
Rearranging and re-interpreting the long-forgotten piece, which

highlight - the most exciting, impressive, or interesting part of an event จุดสำคัญ เรียกทับศัพท์ว่า ไฮไลท์  เน้น ย้ำความสำคัญ the important part that gets people's attention

the concert's highlight
the piece is set to be the concert's highlight

renowned - famous and admired for a special skill or achievement ที่มีชื่อเสียง
renowned musician - a famous musician
renowned musician Chaibhak Bhatarachinda

Performing the special instrument is Tossapon Tassana, a percussion instructor at the Luang Pradit Phairoh music club, on Yunnan Ramluek, a vivid, Chinese-accented song composed by the master. Rearranging and re-interpreting the long-forgotten piece, which is set to be the concert's highlight, is renowned musician Chaibhak Bhatarachinda, also a Korphai member.

match - to look the same as or very similar to something else ซึ่งไม่คู่ควร
a perfect match
the instrument and the song are a perfect match

In Anant's opinion, the instrument and the song are a perfect match for the re-introduction.

vibrant - lively and exciting and full of energy; bright and colourful
colourful - with many different bright colours (making it nice to look at)
"Yunnan Ramluek is vibrant and colourful.

captivate - to hold the attention of someone by being extremely interesting, exciting, pleasant or attractive จับใจ,ประทับใจ
It will captivate the audience in such a special event," he said

About the author

columnist
Writer: Jon Fernquest
Position: Online Writer