Gerry Dyck completed a half-century project last year which made a significant contribution to preservation of the folk arts of North Thailand and Lanna culture. In October 2016 Gerry delivered almost 1500 musical segments to be made available through Rajabhat, Chiang Mai, and Payap Universities. The audio clips had been recorded on reel-to-reel magnetic tape over a four-year period from 1967-1971. But, thanks to modern technology, the entire collection of more than 150 computer discs now fits onto a 38 gig data storage device the size of Gerry’s finger. This database is in the hands of the 3 Chiang Mai institutions, thanks to Ajan Songkran Somchandra สงกรานด์ สมจันทร์ of Rajabhat Chiang Mai University.
Gerry’s projects in Chiang Mai in 1967-71 were two-fold.
He and his wife Edy Fagerbourg Dyck were missionary co-workers sent by the United Presbyterian Church to the Thailand Theological Seminary of the Church of Christ in Thailand. Gerry was to help with the seminary’s Department of Church Music. The department prepared high school graduates to be church and church-school choir directors and music teachers. But Gerry made an effort to expand church music beyond Western (i.e. “international”) hymnody, to include indigenous Northern Thai instruments. Objections were formidable from both those who thought the future of church music was with guitars, and those for whom Thai instruments evoked a past haunted by ghosts and the occult. A high point in Gerry’s effort came when the 1969 Christmas concert was presented using Thai instruments. [I have saved the folder of pictures Gerry sent me from that concert. Alas, the cassette tape has disintegrated.] I believe, over all, Gerry’s efforts to convince Thai churches to be open to their own local forms of music were more successful than most projects to persuade churches to incorporate indigenous art and architecture. (See, for example: www.kendobson.asia/blog/cultural-christianity.) Over the years the stigma has gone and Northern Thai instrumental groups can help lead worship without protest.
The second area of Gerry’s endeavors had to do with ethnomusicology, the study of ethnic music, in this case traditional music of Chiang Mai and Lampun Provinces. Gerry attempted to record as many traditional performers and groups as he could. He often focused on trying to record the entire repertoire of particular musicians, or finding as many performers as he could who knew how to make or play certain instruments. It is that which led him to what became his best known effort, revival of dying pin pia music พิณเปิ๊ยะ. Gerry tracked down every player of the pia he could find, most of them very elderly. He oversaw reconstruction of instruments from parts found in antique shops and described the music and instruments in detail. It was the threatened demise of the pia that attracted attention and set in motion a chain reaction leading to renewed interest in the unique music of Lanna Thai culture. This heritage has now expanded through music departments and groups doing recordings as part of the Northern Thai cultural renewal movement. Meanwhile, Gerry collected instruments and documented how they were made, especially drums. His collections of instruments have now been turned over to Thai music departments in the USA where they enable students and teachers to conserve Northern Thai music in another way.
From 1971 to 2006 Gerry’s extensive collection of recordings remained largely unused and unavailable, in the days before the IT explosion through YouTube, Facebook and the like. A break came in 2006 when Gerry located a set of films and sound tapes he and Dr. David Morton of UCLA had made in 1969. They had been inadequately filed in UCLA archives, but when they were found and reformatted they renewed interest in the pin pia and Northern Thai music. This inspired Gerry to get on with his penultimate ethno-musical project, production of his notes and memoirs. The result was self-publication of a book entitled Musical Journeys in Northern Thailand, including 200 pages (of a total 333 pages) describing the 4 years of musical investigations with extensive field notes and hundreds of photographs. Gerry and Songkran’s relationship began with the distribution of the first edition of Musical Journeys. I understand that Aj Songkran has edited these notes and translated them, forming a body of research that is now being used as Lanna cultural historians rediscover their heritage. The work of uncovering and disseminating Northern Thai music is being carried on by the younger generation, including Aj. Songkran who published History of Lanna Music ประวัติดนตรีลานนา in 2016.
The final contribution to ethnic music studies that Gerry has made is to digitally re-master his entire collection, his book, and the recovered films.
The job is done.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.