Terry E. Miller (Kent State University)
Nation/Culture(s). Thai, Siamese, minorities (Lao, Chinese, Mon, Khmer, numerous upland groups, Malay, Vietnamese)
Music Types. Thai classical, regional local music (Central, Northeast, North, and South), popular music genres, both old and new
Music in Higher Education. Until the 1980s, music was not considered an appropriate subject in colleges and universities. Only Ban Somdet Chao Phraya College in Bangkok offered a sort of “music education” degree whose 4 years covered the last two of high school and the first two of college. Otherwise, music existed only in the form of student clubs at many institutions.
Gradually, during the 1980s, music came to be accepted, and many institutions established departments of music. Most departments offered overlapping tracks in Thai music (meaning “Thai classical”) or Western music (meaning variously “classical” or “popular”). Chulalongkorn University began offering both tracks in two separate units, The Faculty of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Education, and continue to do so today. Mahidol University, west of Bangkok, established the first College of Music and built a complex of large buildings and a concert hall. Most faculty teaching Western music are hired from outside Thailand, and Mahidol’s Western department is the strongest in Thailand today. The Thai music department is less robust. The College also aspires to offer graduate degrees in a kind of “musicology,” including a Ph.D, but none of the faculty had such degrees themselves. Consequently, the faculty became students in their own department and earned Ph.Ds at Mahidol.
Today numerous other universities aspire to offer full music programs, including graduate degrees up to a Ph.D, but there is a dearth of qualified faculty in Thailand to staff these programs. After the Ministry of Education raised the standards for university faculty to hold Ph.Ds or equivalents, many solved the problem by obtaining (and rarely earning) such degrees “in” or “from” India. The country has relatively few faculty who hold full-fledged doctorates from the United States, Europe, or Japan.
Earning legitimate graduate degrees in foreign countries is expensive, and unless the faculty members come from wealthy families, they can rarely afford study. Salaries for university faculty in Thailand are low. A beginning instructor, even with an American degree, might be offered only 20,000 baht a month (c$600) or even less. It is normal in Thailand to pay foreign faculty only 30,000 baht (c$1000) a month. An administrator making 50,000 baht a month (c$1500) is exceptionally well paid. The cost of living in Thailand overall approximates that of the United States, and maintaining a middle class lifestyle with that level of remuneration is impossible. Thus, investing in a formal education will never pay for itself, regardless of the “prestige” that goes with being a faculty member.
Music in Schools. While a number of universities offer degrees and courses in what is described as music education, there are few faculty in Thailand who understand music education as known in the United States. Over the last 30 years, public and private primary and secondary schools have come to offer more and more opportunities to study music. These opportunities are almost exclusively performance ensembles for interested students. Nonetheless, even primary level students learn to play Thai classical music and perform in public.
Music in Private Schools. Least known, even to the Thai, are the many private “schools” centered in individual musicians’ homes. These attract both children and adults who simply love to play Thai classical music. Many of these ensembles perform at an exceptionally high level but are rarely seen in public. I observed numerous such ensembles playing in an obscure suburban temple near Bangkok at a festival honoring a local music teacher (of classical music). In addition, those performing included ensembles sponsored by various business and public organizations, such as the police force and military.
Recommendations for Reading.
Miller, Terry E. “Lessons from Thailand: Why Thai Music Teachers are so Successful.” The Orff Echo (Winter, 2014): x-x.
Terry Miller and Sean Williams, eds. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Vol. 4, Southeast Asia (with Sean Williams as Co-Editor). New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1998.
Terry Miller and Sean Williams. The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. New York: Routledge, 2008.