The King's Passion for Music
It has been said that King Bhumibol Adulyajej's genius and passion for artistic pursuits can be traced back to his father, H.R.H. Prince Mahidol of Songkla, and his penchant for technology has no doubt been influenced by Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother, known for her interest in photography.
In matters of music, His Majesty had shown a natural aptitude for it since his early childhood. During his stay in Lausanne as the royal younger brother, he took up various musical instruments and studied music seriously under a man named Weybrecht, a native of Alsace.
H.R.H. Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra relates the following story in her book Little Princes - Young Kings, about the time the two brothers spent studying music and enjoying themselves playing musical numbers together:
The thing the two of them played together for a long period of time is music. King Rama VIII first began to play the piano after he saw me taking piano lessons. Meanwhile, King Rama IX asked to play the accordion, but gave up after a few lessons owing to the fact that "the sound clashes with the piano." King Rama VIII also abandoned the piano lessons. Once at Arosa in the Swiss winters, the princes attended a large concert at the hotel and immediately longed to play the instruments themselves. They soon bought a second-hand saxophone for 300 Swiss francs. The Princess Mother contributed half the money and the Club Patapoum* paid the other half. When the teacher first came to give a private lesson at the residence, King Rama VIII, originally wanting to take a lesson himself, pushed his brother to enter the room instead, and that was how the future King Rama IX took his brother's place. After a few lessons, King Rama VIII bought a clarinet for his personal use and began taking lessons on that, too. The teacher took turns to give the lessons in a 30-minute session separately for each of the princes. The teacher later would write a trio for the three of them to play together, himself playing his saxophone. The lessons continued for six months, after which the younger brother had to enter a boarding school.
In the early stages of his music education, the King rehearsed and learned by notation and concentrated on classical music exclusively for about two years. In so doing, he opted for the wind instruments, particularly the saxophone and clarinet. Afterwards, he switched over to playing jazz music, which gave him more freedom at improvising, as befitting his preference for fast, exciting jazz beats.
The King spent his time practicing jazz by himself. He would play his sax along with the phonograph records of famous jazz bands. Once he had acquired greater confidence and facility with the playing, he would jam it up with the jazz recordings. In many ways then, his "teachers" were really famous jazz musicians, in the form of his favorite records. They included Sidney Bechet, a celebrated soprano saxophonist, and Johnny Hodges, an alto saxophone master.
Undoubtedly, three factors explained his eventual mastery of the soprano saxophone: his interest in the music, long hours of practice, and a natural talent for music. He then went on to play other woodwinds, for example, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, and clarinet, as well as the trumpet, and excelled at them all. The woodwinds were truly his forte. Like all musicians of note, this self-taught king of music eventually gained mastery of his art through hard work and perseverance, driven by a passionate love of music.
His Majesty's Gifts as a Musician and Composer
His Majesty began to compose songs in earnest when he turned 18 years old, and the person who both encouraged him and became his inspiration was none other than his royal brother King Ananda Mahidol. In April 1946, King Bhumibol Adulyadej composed his first-ever song, a blues, under the title of "Candlelight Blues." But he had yet to go public with it, feeling that he still needed to polish the tune for better effect. As a result, the first royal song released to the Thai public was "Love at Sundown," the second number he composed in the same month as the first.
He next came up with the third number, called "Falling Rain," a sweet waltz which, since its release, has been most popular with Thai listeners and still is today. The fourth and final number he composed during his pre-accession days as the king's younger brother was titled "Near Dawn".
Early in the reign, after his crowning in 1946, His Majesty continued to produce a steady flow of compositions under a variety of inspirations and circumstances. Examples of the songs written in this period include "Blue Day," "Dream of Love, Dream of You," and "Love Light in My Heart."
His Majesty has always been generous with his permission to have his music played for the enjoyment of Thai people on numerous occasions. "Love at Sundown" was featured in a fund-raising concert for the Anti-Tuberculosis Society of Thailand, "Falling Rain" was played to entertain the crowd at the gathering of the Chicken Breeders Association of Thailand, and "Smiles" was written to help boost the morale of members of the School for the Blind. He also wrote military marches and patriotic anthems, for example, "Rao Su" ("We Shall Fight"), "Kwamfan An Sungsud" ("The Noblest Dream"), and "Rao Su" ("Our Motherland") to fire up the people's patriotic sentiments. Other compositions include alma maters and New Year songs to offer best wishes and luck to his subjects on the festive occasion.
His Majesty mentioned the source of inspiration that had spurred him on to write so many compositions during a concert of his number "Echo" at the Sangkhitamongkhon (Golden Concert) on 6 April 1966: "I kept up with my musical composition, which to date adds up to a total of 40 songs already, written over a 20-year span, or an average output of two songs a year, partly because I have received the generous support of musicians, composers, and singers, including the general audience, who express unfailing appreciation and loyalty to my compositions. It's what keeps me going."
Extending over such a long period of time from a fresh 18-year-old up to the present day, His Majesty has produced a total of 48 songs for the appreciation and enjoyment of the Thai people. That his songs enjoy immense popularity over such a lengthy span of time is a testament to his musical accomplishments.
International Recognition for His Majesty's Musical Talent
It is obvious that His Majesty uses music as a bridge to build communication, relations, and friendship. To him, the language of music is like a bridge between him and his subjects, a dialog between him and local Thai and overseas musicians, and a diplomatic language between Thailand and the international community around the world.
During the 1959 official visit to Thailand of H.R.H. Princess Alexandra of Kent, from the United Kingdom, His Majesty wrote a song under the title of "Alexandra" in her honor. As a welcome gesture, the song was promptly performed before a distinguished audience of the visiting entourage at an official banquet. The touching performance amidst a warm and cordial reception left a lasting impression on the royal guest.
During his 1960 state visit to the United States of America, His Majesty encountered many an opportunity to stamp his musical virtuosity diplomatically. At a welcome dinner reception held in his honor by the governor of Hawaii at Washington Place in Honolulu, His Majesty, after "insistent prodding" by the host and a gathering of musicians and guests, stepped up to play two numbers on the clarinet along with the band, Kenny Alford and His Dixie Cats, to applause from the audience. In New York, he had great fun on the saxophone when he jammed with Benny Goodman on the clarinet, a renowned jazz king and band leader, and other renowned jazz musicians, including Jack Teagarden, the trombonist, Lionel Hampton, the vibraphone player, and Stan Getz, the tenor saxophonist.
In 1964, on a state visit to the Republic of Austria, the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich honored His Majesty by playing several of his songs at the Concert Hall in Vienna. On this occasion, Austria's leading conservatoire, the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Künst (Academy for Music and Performing Arts) in Wien presented His Majesty with the Certificate of Bestowal of Honorary Membership. In commemoration of His Majesty's honorary membership in the institute, the 23rd person so honored, the royal cypher was inscribed on the stone plaque at the institute along with other renowned honorary members, making him the first Asian ever to receive such an honor.
Internationally, His Majesty's compositions have been featured by world-class orchestras at concerts on various important occasions, such as the Madrid Classical Orchestra of Spain, NHK Band of Japan, and Broadway theaters in the United States.
That the royal compositions have won widespread acceptance and appreciation in international circles is due in no small measure to His Majesty's innate talent and passion for music. The world is aware of His Majesty's contributions and duly accords him recognition and honor as a musical monarch. In the King's own words, "Music is an integral part of me, be it jazz or other kinds. Indeed, music is in all of us and forms a vital part of every man's life."
"This song will never, never end,
And time we cannot suspend;
You'll be ever and ever...
Still on my mind."
(Royal Composition 37/1965, English lyrics by H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej)
The Au Saw Friday Band: A History
A man of energy and initiative, His Majesty King Bhumibol always finds time and opportunities to make music and share his musical passion with all concerned. Upon his return home in 1951, he had to stay at Ambara Villa in Dusit Palace during the renovation of Chitralada Villa. His Majesty soon gathered together a group of relatives and close friends to form a musical ensemble. He named the group "Wong Lay Kram" (The Vintage Band), which became the King's private band. Among the members were Mom Luang Dej Sanidvongs, Mom Chao Vimvathit Rabibadhana, Mom Chao Waewchakr Chakrabandhu, Mom Chao Kamaleesarn Jumbala, Mom Chao Choompokbutr Jumbala, Mom Rajawongse Seni Pramoj, Mom Rajawongse Pong-amorn Kridakorn, Mom Luang Udom Sanidvongs, Mom Luang Praphan Snidvongs, Mr. Surathoen Bunnag, and Mr. Manrat Srikaranonda. The members gathered to give a performance every Friday evening at Ambara Villa. The band's regular singers were Mom Chao Muradha Bhisek and Mom Chao Kachornchob-Kittikun Kitiyakara.
In 1952, the Public Relations Department gave His Majesty a 100-watt radio transmitter with broadcast capacity on the short and long wave bands. With this gift, His Majesty set up his "Au Saw Radio Station" at Ambara Villa and began broadcasting entertainment, information, and news programs to the public. (The Thai initials "Au Saw" stand for the location of the station, "Ambara Sathan.") Today the Au Saw Radio Station has moved to its present location in the compound of Chitralada Villa.
Later, Wong Lay Kram underwent changes to its composition as the original honorary members got older, making it tough for them to keep up with the schedule, until only the King and Mr. Manrat Srikaranonda were left as active members. Mr. Manrat therefore asked His Majesty's permission to bring in additional members to fill up available spaces so that the band could continue with its weekly performance. The group was later renamed the Au Saw Friday Band by His Majesty and began to give live performance on air from the Au Saw Radio Station every Friday. For regular programs, His Majesty scheduled the music timetable and handpicked the records. Occasionally, listeners were allowed to make call-in requests to the band. Today the Au Saw Friday Band has reached the landmark of 50 vintage years, going on 51.
Among the early members of the Au Saw Friday Band were Mom Chao Choompokbutr Jumbala, Mom Rajawongse Seni Pramoj, Mom Rajawongse Pong-amorn Kridakorn, Mom Luang Praphan Snidvongs, Rear Admiral Mom Luang Usni Pramoj, Pilot Officer Regius Professor Dr. Manrat Srikaranonda (National Artist), Mom Luang Seri Pramoj, Sub-Lieutenant Uab Hemaratchata, Mr. Dej Tewtong, Mr. Damkerng Snidvongs Na Ayudhya, Mr. Phaibul Leesuwat, Mr. Saneu Suk, Mr. Non Buranasomphop, Mr. Kavi Ansvananda, Mr. Suvit Ansvananda, Mr. Taworn Yaowakun, Lieutenant General Dr. Taveesakdi Taveesri, Mr. Santhad Tanthanan, Mr. Thammarak Tinakorn Na Ayudhya, Mr. Aniruth Tinakorn Na Ayudhya, Mr. Kasem Snidvongs Na Ayudhya, and Mr. Pallop Suwannamalik. Additional members joining the band at a later date were Mr. Uthit Tinakorn Na Ayudhya, Dr. Pathorn Srikaranonda, and Police General Serm Jarurat.
Singers who once sang for the group included Thanphuying Savitri Srivisara Vacha, Khunying Charmaree Snidvongs Na Ayudhya, Professor Emeritus Dr. Khun Kanda Thammamongkol, Thanphuying Suwon Thephakham, Mrs. Cheranand Savettanand, Group Captain Chit Sukrachanthon, Mrs. Sara Kasemsri, Mrs. Phornsri Snidvongs, and Khunying Thongtip Ratanarat. Today there are no vocalists singing for the band.
The present members of the Au Saw Friday Band include Rear Admiral Mom Luang Usni Pramoj (National Artist and Privy Councillor), Pilot Officer Regius Professor Dr. Manrat Srikaranonda (National Artist), Lieutenant General Dr. Taveesakdi Taveesri, Mr. Non Buranasomphop, Mr. Taworn Yaowakun, Mr. Kavi Ansvananda, Mr. Suvit Ansvananda, Mr. Pallop Suwannamalik, Mr. Sandat Tandhanan, Mr. Aniruth Tinakorn Na Ayudhya, and Dr. Pathorn Srikaranonda.
Seating arrangement of the Au Saw Friday BAnd, Piumsuk Villa, Klai Kangwon, Palace, Hua Hin