On Monday, October 31, Dr. Ben Fairfield took the stage at 7:30 pm in the Imin Conference Center at the East West Center. He discussed his background in the Peace Corps and earning his PhD in ethnomusicology. He sang songs, with robust audience participation, he had learned through his time and research in Thailand, and taught the student affiliates and graduate degree fellows of the center in attendance how to make their own instruments out of discarded chop sticks, potato chip bags, cardboard boxes, and other materials they had been provided with.
All of these things are integral to Dr. Fairfield’s research and work in the fields of ethnomusicology, in which he focuses on ethnic identity in northern Thailand, participatory music, and ecomusicology. In the music department, Dr. Fairfield shares his research teaching a course in the music of Thailand and through leading the Thai ensemble.
The Thai Ensemble is not your typical band. Not only does Dr. Fairfield teach and lead folk songs, but guides the ensemble in making their own instruments. In this ensemble, every drum, flute, and harp is handmade in class from a variety of scavenged, found, and recycled materials that would otherwise be headed for the landfill. In this way, the class not only teaches musical and practical skills, but brings attention to ongoing issues of pollution and sustainability plaguing the world.
For more on the philosophy behind the Thai Ensemble, see: https://www.cseashawaii.org/2019/11/mus-311-thai-ensemble-to-return-in-spring-2020/