A debut solo performance on the Kong Vong Thom
Last night's Khmix It! traditional Cambodian music session at Meta House saw the solo debut of a petite sixteen year old Cambodian Livings Arts student who played a series of time-honoured tunes on the Kong Vong Thom, or large circle of gongs, usually heard at weddings or funerals and as part of a much-larger pinpeat orchestra. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask her name! She was naturally very nervous and keen to get home but did tell me that she has been playing the gongs for five years, knows about 100 tunes from her master teacher Tep Mari and lives in the Bassac community, where the majority of artists and performers reside. Currently in 8th grade at High School, she practices for two and a half hours every day and the Kong Vong Thom is one of five instruments that she can play to a good standard. She used a soft mallet to play the tuned instrument which had sixteen cymbal-like metal gongs arranged in a circle around her and suspended on a rattan frame. The gongs were in order of size with the smallest, highest-pitched on her right hand-side, and the largest, lowest-pitched on the left with the others in order between. The gongs are made of a copper and bronze and contain a mixture of lead and beeswax inside. I knew practically nothing about these traditional instruments, so these regular Meta House Wednesday night sessions have been a great way to find out more about Khmer music and whilst the Kong Vong Thom isn't my favourite, it's one of the many that go to make up the larger pinpeat ensemble that you can see at traditional performances, like the one I attended on Monday, accompanied by the Royal Ballet dancers.
Note: After my unforgiveable sin of not getting this young lady's name, I rang a couple of people and can reveal the dedicated gong debutant as Tum Chandy. Long may she gong.