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Road Trip to Mae Suay

Being a musician can be a great excuse for a road trip. This weekend I traveled to Mae Suay in Chiang Rai with Santi Saengthong (piano), Eeh Phoonkunanukoon (violin), Ken Sankaew (organizer), and my personal roadie who doubles as my husband -Chai Buakaewkert.

Chiang Rai is a stunning province nestled in the mountains that are still lush with trees. Between the forests and colder weather, I felt like I was in Canada – until I called my dad who said it was -25C in St. John’s, Newfoundland. That makes it a whole 50 degrees colder than the 25C evening temperature in Chiang Rai (cold for me now is 20C and less!).

Our venue was the Mae Suay New Peace church, which had great acoustics (musicians, this is a very good place to stop along if you are doing a tour in the area). Our program included Violin Concerto in C major by Kabalevsky for violin and piano; Espani Cani (our arrangement for violin, piano, and castanets); Spanish Waltz by George Hamilton Green (for piano and xylophone); as well as several of my own pieces for marimba (Wood Etude, Darked, Flatrock, Soreya) and vibes + metal (Nahook and Lullaby Haze). We also heard students perform piano solos and music for string ensemble and choir. Their music teacher and director is the amazing A. Nurak Nonsee.

The students come from the Peace Foundation, which is located next to the church on 30 rai of land. There are two boarding houses and a school. It is an organization that provides education and boarding for underprivileged hilltribe children in this area. Some students come from areas where drugs are rampant, where there is very little schooling available, or where it is essentially inaccessible because the distance to the nearest school is too far. Some students don’t have official papers because they never received a birth certificate, which will make even leaving the province of Chiang Rai difficult for them, let alone any other official government business, such as going to school, getting married, or getting a job. Many students learn Korean as a second language. According to Tony, who works with the foundation as a volunteer and who helped our team tremendously with logistics, there are currently 120 boarding students and the school soon hopes to adopt the national Thai curriculum. Something that deeply impressed me is the focus on music here at the school. There is a whole wing dedicated to music and twice a week, students receive music tuition from professional musicians who come up from Chiang Mai, which is about three hours away. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few years, this area became a hot bed for young musicians. There is definitely the support.

Since 2018, my school, Prem Tinsulanonda International School, offers a full tuition scholarship for music available to Thai nationals (equivalent value of 500,00 baht, roughly $20,000 per year). In addition to playing music, I was also promoting this music scholarship and I hope that we see some of the students from the Peace Foundation audition. The program here has a mission and a vision. It was a genuine pleasure to play in the little chapel Saturday afternoon (I love afternoon concerts!) for a great audience of budding young musicians. As a percussionist, I loved that every piece was softly accompanied by the jingles of hilltribe traditional dresses as students moved about.

See you next time, Chiang Rai!

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