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Friday, May 27, 2022

Bruce Gaston, American maestro of Thai music, dies at age 75

Bruce Gaston, a California immigrant who helped revolutionize Thai classical music with Western instruments and forms and who became one of Thailand’s leading performers and composers, died on October 17 at his home in Bangkok. He was 75 years old.

According to his son Theodore, the cause was liver cancer.

Together with two Thai musicians, Mr. Gaston founded Fong Nam, which means bubbles, an ensemble that has worked to revive forgotten Thai classics, as well as to create modern forms, performing in concerts and in recording studios. Mr. Gaston played the piano or electronic synthesizer among the gongs and woodwind instruments of the percussion orchestra.

He was a prominent and respected figure in Thailand as a composer, performer and teacher. In 2009, he became the only foreigner to receive the Silpathorn Award for artists who have made significant contributions to Thai art and culture.

“I want to find a shape that transcends this polarity between East and West, between ‘we’ and ‘they,’” he told The New York Times in 1987. “It’s foolish to talk about East and West right now. Technology has brought us all together. “

Mr. Gaston argued that infusing traditional Thai music with new forms is vital to its health, but these new elements “must grow out of this tradition or you risk losing everything that reminds you of who you are and who you were.”

Somtou Sucharitkul, an eminent Thai-American writer and musician, called Mr. Gaston’s music “a new fusion” in which “traditional Thai ideas and Western structures were fluid, could blend back and forth, merge and have a unique Thai sensibility.”

In his article in The Bangkok Post, he said: “If anyone can claim the title of ‘The One Who Lit the Revolutionary Torch’, it is Bruce Gaston.”

Mr. Gaston developed a compositional language based on his teaching in Western classical and contemporary music that “awakened but did not imitate Thai music,” said Keith Young, American pianist, composer and art consultant who co-founded Gitameit. Music Institute in Myanmar and has lived in Thailand for many years.

Bruce Gaston was born on March 11, 1946 in Los Angeles to Marcus and Evangeline Gaston. His mother was a school teacher and his father was a pastor. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Philosophy and a Master of Music in 1969. During the Vietnam War, he received a conscientious objection from military service and was sent to alternative service as a teacher abroad.

Mr. Gaston traveled to Jamaica before moving to Thailand, where he was fascinated by Thai music played during cremation ceremonies at a temple near his home, Theodore Gaston said. In 1971, he developed a music program at Payap College in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Mr. Gaston began experimenting with a mix of Thai and Western forms and wrote an opera on Buddhist themes called Chu Chok in 1976. It was staged at the Goethe Institute in Thailand and Germany in 1977-1978. He studied in Bangkok with Bunyeong Kathong, a master of the ranat that looks like a xylophone.

Mr. Gaston and another musician, Jirapan Answananda, founded Fong Nam in 1981.

“If you want to feel the influence of the West,” great, said his son, “but it’s better to use it as a scent, not the main thing. This is the way of Fongam. If you listen, you will understand that this is a rather Thai language. “

Fong Nam has recorded a series of traditional music CDs for the Nimbus, Celestial Harmonies and Marco Polo labels, said John Clevely, a British music professor from Bangkok who hosts a column titled World Beat at The Bangkok Post.

Mr. Gaston was fluent in Thai and applied his talents extensively, lecturing on music at Chulalongkorn University, composing music for films and theater performances, and performing for many years at Bangkok’s famous Tawan Daeng Brewery.

Initially, he had a thriving business with other musicians who wrote jingles for Thai TV commercials. “We sell cans, beer, all kinds of food, soft drinks, cars, perfumes, soaps and dishes,” he told The Times in 1984. “I would say that we have the majority of the market in Thailand.”

He married Sarapi Aremitr in 1976. Together with her son, she survived from him.

Gaston said his music aims to bridge the gap between generations as well as cultures.

“Sometimes we cannot understand each other, old and young,” he said in 1987, when he was 41 years old. He added: “In changing and discovering new forms, the old members of the orchestra are going through the most difficult times. There are times when old people play better than us in the traditional way, and there are times when they just can’t keep up with us.

“But you’re just playing together. – this is the most important thing, ”he said. “You don’t just say, ‘Forget it.’

Muktita Suhartono provided the reportage.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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