By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
Today’s cremation of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej will be resolutely sombre but not silent. The masses gathered to pray and bear witness will hear the gentle clatter of pipat orchestras and the stirring percussion and brass of symphonies. Ballerinas and puppets will share stages within sight of the magnificent crematorium.
Music, dance and theatre have been part of royal funerals since the Ayutthaya Period, carefully selected and presented to reflect the greatness of the deceased monarch and to carry him to Heaven.
The tradition has enfolded khon masked drama, puppetry and shadow plays, Chinese opera, Mon and thep thong dancing, even stunt shows and acrobatics.
In 1796, early in the Rattanakosin Period, the cremation of Somdet Phra Pathom Borommahachanok, father of King Rama I, included such public performances, though King Rama VI discontinued the practice for the funeral of his father, King Chulalongkorn.
In organising performances for King Bhumibol’s funeral, the government’s Fine Arts Department has adhered to precedents set by the cremation rites for Their Royal Highnesses Srinagarindra the Princess Mother, in 1996, Princess Galyani Vadhana, King Bhumibol’s sister, in 2008, and Princess Bejaratana, daughter of Rama VI, in 2012.
The performances will begin today at 6pm and continue until 6am tomorrow.
There will be three open-air stages at the northern end of Sanam Luang, the royal ceremonial grounds where the crematorium has been erected.
Sharing the first stage will be performances of nang yai – the “great shadow play” – and khon masked drama, featuring scenes from the Ramakien (the Ramayana) and actors from the annual khon productions revived by Her Majesty the Queen.
A second stage will host hun luang shows – giant puppets – also depicting episodes from the Ramakien, and small hun krabok hand-manipulated puppets portraying passages from the beloved epic poem by Sunthorn Phu, “Phra Aphai Mani”.
The third stage will be devoted to the musical compositions of the late King, as performed by some of Thailand’s finest orchestras and bands, and a ballet inspired by “Manorah”, also written by King Bhumibol.
Anek Artmangkorn, director of the Fine Arts Department’s Office of Performing Arts, says this stage, formally designated Tha Khue Duangjai Thai Thua Lah, will witness “the most beautiful rendition of His Majesty’s compositions in the history of Thailand, with more than 1,000 musicians and singers”.
“It will be presented in the grandest way possible, while at the same time adhering to traditional practice.”
Chaninvadee Chomputip, the “orchestra expert” in the same office, specifies that there will be seven symphony orchestras and a grand total of 1,109 performers, musicians and singers. The production will have seven acts.
The first is “Duj Yard Thip Chalom Lah”, featuring musicians from the Fine Arts Department, Bunditpatanasilpa Institute, Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music and its Youth Orchestra, the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, College of Dramatic Arts, Rajini School and the band Aw Saw Friday.
Together they will perform “Nature Waltz”, “No Moon”, “Alexandra” – all composed by the late King – and two songs he inspired, “Phra Raja Phu Song Tham” and “Nai Luang Khong Paendin”.
Also in the repertoire is the six-part “Kinari Suite” from the ballet “Manorah”, a lovely tale set in the mythical Himmaphan Forest about the love that blooms between an angel and a hunter.
Aw Saw Friday features Lt General Taveesakdi Taveesri on trumpet, Non Buranasomphop on tenor saxophone, Taworn Yaowakun on drums, Suvit Ansvananda on double bass, Sandat Tandhanan on trombone, Aniruth Tinakorn Na Ayudhya on guitar and Pathorn Srikaranonda on alto sax.
Chaninvadee points out that Non is president of the Foundation of His Majesty the King Rama IX Music Library Hall and was privileged to be among recipients of sage advice from the late King regarding both music and life.
In the second act, “Tai Fah Rom Yen Proh Phra Baramee”, the Royal Thai Army Orchestra will perform “Maharat Overture”, “The Colours March”, “Royal Guards March”, “We: Infantry Regiment 21”, “Rao Soo”, “Kerd Pen Thai Tai Phuea Thai”, “Love Over Again”, “Magic Beams” and “Love in Spring”.
In the third act, “Thuay Ras Nom Sadudee”, the Royal Thai Navy Orchestra will play “The Royal Marines March”, “When”, “The Impossible Dream”, “Dream Island”, “Love at Sundown”, “I Never Dream”, “Lullaby” and two of its members’ own recent compositions, “Saeng Thien, Saeng Thip” and “Khon Bon Fah”.
Lt Commander Supakorn Tangnoi, conductor of the Navy orchestra, says “Saeng Thien, Saeng Thip” compares the late King to a light forever shining in Thai people’s hearts, and “Khon Bon Fah” is about how His Majesty will forever remain in their minds.
The Royal Thai Air Force Orchestra takes the stage for the fourth act, “Thawai Phakdi Ong Rachan”, and will present “I Think of You”, “Falling Rain”, “Lovelight in My Heart”, “Sweet Words”, “Blue Day”, “Dream of Love, Dream of You” and “Maharat Phra Chom Siam”.
For the fifth act, “Sathit Niran Nai Jai Ras”, the Royal Thai Police Orchestra will perform “King of Kings”, “Candlelight Blue”, “Twilight”, “Never Mind the Hungry Men’s Blues”, “Still on My Mind”, “HM Blues”, “Smiles” and “Phu Pid Thong Lang Phra”.
The sixth act, “Puang Kha Bat Bangkhom Thawai”, will see the Public Relations Department Orchestra perform “Phra Maha Mongkol”, “New Year Greeting”, “Near Dawn”, “Echo”, “Old-fashioned Melody”, “Somewhere Somehow”, “Rom Chat” and “Duay Phra Preechachan”.
Act 7, “Soo Sawan Kalai Nai Thip Vimarn”, has the Chulalongkorn University Band playing “Maha Chulalongkorn”, “Thammasat”, “Kasetsart”, “Oh I Say”, “Can’t You Ever See”, “Lay Kram Goes Dixie”, “Blues for Uthit”, “Friday Night Rag”, “Love” and “Still on My Mind”.
The finale will be “Pleng Rak” and “Menu Khai”, both composed by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.