University Will Offer Old-Style Music Courses

Hoping to revive interest in two disappearing Khmer art forms, the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh will open for the first time a course on the traditional Cambodian musical instrument, chapei dong veng, and offer another course on a traditional form of singing, officials have said.

The chapei dong veng is a long, two-stringed guitar with a twangy, high-pitched sound, and the ayai is a style of duet between male and female singers.

Besides aiming to popularize the art forms, the courses will also try and clean up current styles used to play the chapei dong veng and to sing the ayai, which are often crude, Royal University Vice Rector Proeung Chhieng said.

The five-year degree course will focus on both theory and practice of the two art forms, university Faculty of Music Dean Veng Phath said. Students will study eight hours per day.

But declining demand for performances of traditional Khmer arts may mean that the university will have difficulty filling the courses, Veng Phath said.

Still, only 20 students will be admitted to the program, he said. University officials will begin their search for students in the pro­vinces, where there is still a faint pulse of interest in traditional art forms.

“Many city students aren’t interested in these subjects, and they’ll never apply,” Veng Phath said.

The program could expand the base for the art forms, but public interest has to be better stoked, ayai singer Chhen Cheang, 57, warned. “A lot of people don’t like ayai,” he said.

If they succeed, the courses will not only bring the art forms back from cultural oblivion; they will also help to legitimise current acts, officials say. Singers and players often use bawdy lyrics to attract an audience, which disgraces the tradition, Proeung Chhieng said.

“Right now, because of the markets, a lot of performers use sexual words to make people laugh. This act has a bad affect on people,” he said.


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