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May 13 2022

The Uniqueness of Isan Performing Arts and the Emergence of the Pong Lang Ensemble


Asian Performing Arts on Stage and on Screen

The Uniqueness of Isan Performing Arts and the Emergence of the Pong Lang Ensemble

Lecture by Jarernchai Chonpairot, Ph.D.

College of Music, Mahasarakham University

Isan (Northeast Thailand) performing arts, especially performances lam poetic singing, have been the most popular entertainment for the people since the old days. Nowadays, its popularity has spread throughout all regions of the country as well as in many countries. In this keynote address, Jarernchai Chonpairot, Ph.D. investigates the unique elements of Isan performing arts, and discusses the emergence of the pong lang ensemble in particular, based on his ethnographic research in the region. The music of the pong lang ensemble is distinguished by its tonal system, melodic inventiveness, shifting melodic modes, compositional forms and phrasing, its incorporation of accompanied singing, and performance context. The wooden xylophone called pong lang originated in remote villages in Kalasin Province. The villagers had used pong lang to entertain themselves as well as to chase away the animals from their farms. The instrument was called mak toet toeng, or mak king kom. Later on, a group of Isan folk music lovers brought it into a small ensemble, which also included mouth organ (khaen), plucked lute (phin), panpipes (wot), and drums. This small group of Isan folk musicians was invited by the Siam Society to perform in Bangkok. Since then, the ensemble has become known to the public throughout the country. Later on, the pong lang ensemble was made part of music curriculum of the national College of Dramatic Arts system, as well as those of other music colleges in Northeast region. Nowadays, pong lang ensembles are established in many colleges, universities and high schools throughout the country, and royally-sponsored competitions provide ample incentive for these ensembles to perform at a high level.

Jarernchai Chonpairot received a bachelor’s degree in education from Prasanmit College of Education in Bangkok, Thailand; a master’s degree in Asian studies from the University of Michigan, USA; and a doctoral degree in musicology-ethnomusicology from Kent State University. He was a founding member of the Asia Pacific Society for Ethnomusicology in 1985. He taught at Mahasarakham University between 1969 and 2000. After his retirement in 2000, he became the Committee Chair, establishing M.A and Ph.D. programs in ethnomusicology at Mahasarakham University and leading students on fieldwork for dissertations in Thailand and in neighboring countries. And he leads and encourages music students to attend and present papers at many international conferences. He was honored to be the keynote speaker for the International Council for Traditional Music World Conference in Bangkok in 2019. He has presented academic at many international conferences and published in Thai and international journals. He now works at the College of Music, Mahasarakham University, Thailand as a Specialist.

About Asian Performing Arts on Stage and on Screen Symposium, May 13-15, 2022:

This three-day hybrid symposium highlights the diversity of Asian performing arts through presentations and performances in various media, including panel presentations, film screenings with discussion, lecture-demonstrations on musical instruments, and live staged performances of music, dance, and puppetry. Performances will include Javanese shadow puppets with live gamelan music, Philippine kulintang music and dance, Japanese gagaku, Thai poonglaang ensemble, and much more. Research papers will explore subjects such as pop music and gender identity in Vietnam, hip-hop music in Cambodia, and shamanism in Korea and China. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Jarernchai Chonpairot speaking on Isan performing arts and the emergence of the poonglaang ensemble.

Via Zoom and in-person at Lani Hall, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, USA.
Co-Sponsored by the UCLA Center for Musical Humanities, the UCLA World Music Center, the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department. 

Register in advance for this event. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the event.

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This event is FREE! No RSVP required. Early arrival is recommended.


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