Thursday, March 18, 2010

Supporting Lao American classical music?

At the moment, there are few efforts to actively fund the vibrancy of Lao classical music in general, and particularly innovation and tradition within America.
The result will increasingly become a Lao American community largely unfamiliar with Lao classical music, one uninterested or even averse to taking risks with the music. And without risk or innovation, this will, if history is any guide, hasten the relegation of classical music either to an elitist or novelty pursuit and not a vibrant mechanism for artistic expression.

Looking at European-style classical music, we might find some inspiration for our own future processes and goals from Chamber Music America, who offers funding for the composition of new work, including the composer's fee (awards of $5,000 to $20,000 each), the ensemble's rehearsal honorarium ($1,000 per ensemble musician), and copying costs (awards of up to $1,000 each).

Unfortunately, there are few parallel resources in the Lao community in America, with the exception of the Lao Heritage Foundation, which does not presently offer scholarships, fellowship or similar funding for Lao classical artists in America.

But how wonderful it would be if every year, even if for just a decade, we could be certain there were funds to truly support musicians getting the time to fully practice their craft and build a love for it in our community.
There can be many arguments made that our present state is the tragic result of many in our community turning our back on our own heritage, so often caught in the classic paradox that those who can help financially don't, while those who wish to help financially don't have the means. Or in some cases, we've become content with digital recordings or poorly performed examples of Lao traditional music.

Looking at the Chamber Music America model, they define chamber music as music for small ensembles (two to ten musicians) whose members perform one to a part, generally without a conductor. Compositions may represent a diverse musical spectrum including contemporary art music, world music, and works that include electronics. New works created through this program must be performed a minimum of three times in the United States.

From a Lao American point of view, this should be of significant interest to our community. A full classical Lao orchestra would have around ten to twelve musicians, although some circumstances may allow fewer to perform depending on space and other variables.
The program provides funding for the composer's fee (awards of $5,000 to $20,000 each), the ensemble's rehearsal honorarium ($1,000 per ensemble musician), and copying costs (awards of up to $1,000 each).

To my knowledge, Souphine Phathsoungneune is one of the only Lao composers in the US to receive substantial recognition and a commission to create one Lao opera which was performed in Vermont in 2004. To be honest, given the size of the Vermont community, this surprises me, and I would think particularly for larger Lao communities elsewhere should serve as a positive example of finding support for our classical composers.
The Classical Commissioning Program of Chamber Music America is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund. That's only three foundations, but they're playing such a big difference for classical music. I would certainly be interested in hearing of resources and funders who'd support genuine growth of classical Lao music.

But of course, across the country, Lao Americans really have to begin asking the right people to help these efforts, and understand for themselves what the value will be for us years and centuries from now as we define ourselves as a people and as a community speaking to other communities.

1 comment:

Thassany Pothikan said...

Wow! you speak my mind.