Rau Rak Pated Thai!
Hello from Chang Rai, Thailand! The Earth Stringband woke up today with a hunger for some picking and singing. The rest day yesterday was awesome fun and very much needed but we’re all glad to get back to work and share and learn some music with the Thai.
We started with a workshop at the Mah Fah Luang University in Chang Rai and were introduced to both students from the school and members of the Chang Rai youth orchestra. Most of the students sported violins, and were also flanked by a few upright bass players and guitar players. We picked a tune for them and then sat and listened to one of their traditional Thai melodies. We also heard a rendition of a popular Coldplay tune as played by the local guitar duo in the workshop.
The Earth Stringband then split into a few groups and focused on teaching one tune, Seneca Falls Square Dance. Even though we love teaching together, it’s cool to see each of the guys’ personality come through in the teaching. Andy led his vioin orchestra through the melody phrase by phrase and implemented some fiddle-chopping techniques while Sam was in the room next door honing the bass flatpicking techniques he himself has been mastering over the years. Eric was hanging out with everybody, picking with the bass guys and jamming with the violins.
He came into my room later on to help out with some of the vocal improvisation my group was working on. I learned that we also had piano, saxophone and drumset players present on top of just guitar players so the melody in my group was taught through voice. After learning to sing the whole melody, we delved into melodic conversations, switching off everybody’s version of the A part of the Seneca Falls Square Dance.
One of the guitar players’ Steve Vai influence was apparent as he improvised his own little twangs into the Seneca Falls melody. We also encouraged each person to imitate their specific instrument as they sang the variations. There’s always a little place for distortion and whammy bars in fiddle tunes.
We returned to the hotel after a nice lunch at the local hospital. We thought this might be the best place for Sam to try exotic fish which he’s mostly been avoiding due to allergic-reaction-potential. We thought there’d probably be no better place to have your throat close up than the local Thai hospital(health tourism is huge here!). Sam still avoided the seafood however, probably for the better.
After the lunch and a short break we geared up for sound check. The concert tonight ended up being a huge success. Between all the publicity help we got from the Mah Fah Luang university, the city of Chang Rai, and the US embassy we were able to practically fill up a whole 1400 seat hall. Tonight was also my personal foray into the thai language arena.
We totally appreciate the translators who have helped us at all the gigs, but there’s no greater feeling than uttering a few seemingly meaningless syllables and hearing the crowd react with a radical passion. The music tonight also felt really inspired between the band members. We’ve decided to use microphones and put them all really close together to match the same kind of vibe we have when we’re playing together in our rooms back home in Brighton.
Even though we can’t crank the volume like we can with pickups on the instruments, I felt that the intimacy of the stage setting allowed for a nice connection between us and the big audience.
The show was followed by a warm meet-and-greet. We got to talk to people of all ages and everybody was so gracious and welcoming.
Learning so much about the language and being able to share all this music in Thailand was a great reminder of the good times that are yet to come. I think we’re all starting to gain a true appreciation for the workshop environment and seeing how between music and select phrases in the local language you can communicate an infinite amount of information. Tomorrow we play at the ambassador’s residence in Bangkok and then we’re off to Cambodia! Til next time…
Beautiful song played by a long neck woman near Chang Rai