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Modernising Traditional Musical Culture:
A Case Study of Contemporary Piphat Ensembles in Phayao Province, Northern Thailand

AMARO, TAT (2018) Modernising Traditional Musical Culture:
A Case Study of Contemporary Piphat Ensembles in Phayao Province, Northern Thailand.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (My thesis aims to discuss the recent musical development of the contemporary piphat ensemble in Phayao Province, Northern Thailand in associate with how local patrons and musicians becoming reoriented towards embracing globalised cultural settings.) - Accepted Version


In the North of Thailand, known as Lanna, dynamic musical change is an inevitable corollary of people’s needs to adapt to new social and musical preferences. In Phayao Province, where this research is focused, contemporary piphat ensembles have long been developing, particularly through the uptake of Western musical instruments and tuning system, applying electronic equipment and computer karaoke, and transforming Lanna repertory. This thesis explores how the refashioning of traditional music has become the very foundation of creativity in live performance. Nowadays, Phayao’s piphat musicians all direct their artistry towards the provision of modern mass- media influenced entertainment, even as they sustain their traditional roles of performing at funerals, fon phi spirit dance ceremonies and temple festivals. In these contexts, their music helps give form to the attendee’s experiences, sometimes promoting solemnity and, at other times, stimulating revelry.
In this thesis, based on empirical data acquired using personal engagement, participant observation, interviews, and filming, I chart the successes and hardships that the Phayao province piphat ensembles have experienced in the face of changing social, economic and aesthetic contexts, and argue that adaptability has been the musicians’ key to continued relevance. This adaptability relates not only to the music-making itself but also to the social networks that support it. In Phayao, the piphat musicians are ceaselessly re-negotiating complex patterns of alliance and rivalry, seeking to make their interactions and business dealings run smoothly. While collaboration has ensured the survival of piphat, competition has sometimes ignited fierce conflict, and this study also shines light on these dynamics.
Furthermore, undertaking a detailed analysis of original transcriptions, this thesis explains how the piphat musicians balance tradition and innovation in their artistry, re- interpreting older repertory from Central Thailand and Lanna by adding tertian harmonies and new instrument-specific roles, and playing favourites from the lukthung pop repertory – taking piphat far beyond its original musical and social limitations.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Modernising, Traditional Musical Culture, Contemporary Piphat Ensembles, Phayao Province, Northern Thailand
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Nov 2018 12:03

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