Story and video – Belda Kosasih, Netting Jaruwan Supolrai, Jan Aldwin Toralde Cutin, Ngeoum Phally, Le Hoa
Chap, kong and klong resound all over the ancient wooden bungalow. Their beats are in tune with the little artist’s skillful dancing steps. The two colorful tasseled sticks are rolling around his hands. His face is serious, much like he is performing a sacred ritual. He is the conductor of the local Lanna drum orchestra. His name is Prawit Chaichana, or Sunny.
Sunny is fourteen years old, and he has been practicing playing klong at the Lanna Drum Training Center since ten. Klong is the main big drum in a Lanna drum orchestra, often consisting of six kongs, or small drums, and four chaps, or gongs. Now he is the leader of Moo Seven Ban Sansai Tonkok drum orchestra with eleven teenagers.
Being the leader means he has to perform ritual procedures to honor the klong genie prior to the performance, dancing, and keeping the right beat during the performance.
“If klong misleads, chap and kong cannot follow,” Sunny said.
Traditionally, Lanna drum orchestras perform at all types of local ceremonies like Songkran, weddings, Father’s Day, etc.. Funerals are the only exception. Nowadays, Sunny and his friends, among some other local Lanna drum orchestras, perform at competitions and school shows as well.
Sunny began practicing klong initially out of curiosity. He happened to attend a drum teaching session by Por Luang, his current headmaster, in the local primary school and decided to learn this “cool” instrument.
Over time, Sunny became more skilful at performing this Lanna traditional musical instrument. Last year, his team won third place in the Chiang Mai provincial competition held by Princess Sirithhorn involving 22 others districts.
Most of his free time is spent on practicing drum rather than playing games like most kids of his age. “He [Sunny] has become a more responsible kid […]. He is self-confident. He never wants to play online games,” Sunny’s mother shares.
More than a pastime, drum practicing has helped improved his temper and concentration. “It used to be very easy for me to get upset […]. When I came to learn drumming here […] my brain gets rested,” Sunny says with a sheepish smile.
Actually, Sunny is not the only kid that has positively changed after practicing drum at the Lanna Drum Training Center. According to Por Luang, the center has facilitated young kids to learn drums and preserve Lanna tradition through drum performing.
“We train young people to help them absorb the significance of being Lanna and its people’s lifestyle,” Por Luang explains, “it teaches them about the ethics and morality and how to live together.”
“Students who have graduated here are never aggressive and do not make any trouble in the community.” Por Luang elaborates.
In fact, many alumnis even return to help train the younger students. In addition,many of the students, including Sunny, even get a place in prestigious schools thanks to the ability to perform traditional drums.
And most importantly, they are deeply aware of the significance of preserving their local wisdom, like what Sunny says: “Local wisdom will be ever fading over time. We have to hold on together and preserve it. If it’s gone, what will be left for our children to perform?”