a gathering of dharma songs

Reflections on Cambodia, Buddhism and Music

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Moved to trentwalker.org

I've moved to trentwalker.org

You should be automatically redirected there shortly. If not, point your browser to trentwalker.org

See you there, -Trent

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cambodian Refugee Poetry and Smot

The book and tour I mentioned previously also has a wonderful website: http://www.cambodianrefugeepoetry.org

Included on the site are four beautiful video performances of smot and traditional instrumental music featuring the great Phoeun Srey Peou and Nhok Sinat: http://www.cambodianrefugeepoetry.org/press_smot.html

I have been reading from the book and am impressed by the depth and art of Ven. Ly Van's words as well as Samkhann Khoeun's lucid English translations. The book is available from the website. I hope that Mr. Khoeun's labor of love will lead a greater appreciation for this powerful form of performance.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Memory of Prum Ut

Click on the image to read the poem in English and Khmer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"O! Maha Mount Dangrek" US Tour

A wonderful poetry and smot project involving my friends from Cambodian Living Arts, Samkhann Khoeun, Srey Peov Phoeun and Sinat Nhok:


See also the tour dates below:

Article on Film about Smot

My friend Neang Kavich has produced a short film on smot that has already shown in Cambodia. Here's a link to an article about it in the Phnom Penh Post:


While he was making the film, Kavich asked me two questions: What is smot and why it is important? I responded in brief:

Smot is a style of sung recitation of poetry and prose in Khmer and Pali with complex and expressive melodies. Smot is closely associated with Buddhist rituals, including funerals, but may be used in a wide variety of sacred and secular settings.

Smot is important because it is a uniquely Cambodian vocal style with a long cultural history, tremendous emotional force and rich musical complexity. The tradition may lose its relevance in the coming decades if the next generation does not take interest in it and make it their own.

I would add that smot also often serves as a colloquial name to refer to the Dharma song genre; i.e. not merely a vocal style but also a textual genre.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Radio Program on Smot and Dharma Songs

On May 26th, 2008, a radio program on smot I produced, called "Healing Sounds," aired on KZSU 90.1 FM. (Stanford, CA).

Here's the twenty-minute program on smot:

Click here for the whole show, called "Epiphony," three programs on "the life-changing, transformative power of sound." My program starts about a third of the way through.

(Note: I believe I have cleared up the earlier glitch that prevented sound files from playing on my blog)

The Last Testament of the Buddha

My translation (in non-rhyming "brahmagiti" meter) and smot performance in English of the Cambodian Dharma Song, "The Last Testament of the Buddha" (បច្ឆិមពុទ្ធវចនៈ).

Come here now. Don't delay!
The Realized One will
Die—you'll be left behind.

Please, friend, be happy.
Don't suffer needlessly.
I now must leave you.
Don't you grieve, Ananda!

This old body will
Be dissolved in all ways.
Stay, stay, Ananda!
Contemplate your body.

These days your body
Is like a fragile dish
Not lasting for long,
It will soon break in pieces.

So you, Ananda,
Must practice—think deeply.
When I pass away,
You must bear my teaching.

Truly this teaching
Will remain with the one
Whose faith shines clear and
Practices as I teach.

Now the Realized One
Will end in nirvana.
Old age violently
Crushes life breath by breath.

Original Text, Author unknown:

ចាក​ចោល​បា​មិន​ខាន​ឡើយ ។

កុំ​សោក​ឡើយណា​អានន្ទ ។

ខំ​គ្នេគ្នាន់​ក្នុង​អង្គ​ប្រាណ ។

គង់​នឹង​បាន​វិនាស​ទៅ ។

អ្នក​ឯង​នៅ​ថែ​សាសនា ។

ប្រព្រឹត្ត​ត្រូវ​តាម​លំអាន ។​

ទន្ទ្រាន​មក​ផ្តាច់​សង្ខារ ។

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Funereal "Victory Drum Music"

One of the most evocative forms of Khmer funeral music is known as "victory drum music," or ភ្លេងស្គរជ័យ. It is equally know in Cambodian by its Thai name, กลองแขก, meaning "Indian (or Malay) drum."

Here is an old public domain recording of "victory drum music" as would be played in a funeral. The oboe (ស្រឡៃ) player must use circular breathing in order to produce the unbroken long phrases characteristic of Khmer music.

The poor quality of the audio actually takes on a mysterious, even spooky, effect here, as one could easily imagine this song being broadcast on inexpensive loudspeakers at a funeral in Cambodia. Indeed, given the rarity of live performances of this genre of music, it is more common to here such recordings as this being played at a funeral than hearing a version by live musicians.

This recording comes from an old cassette of Dharma songs, likely a copy of an earlier vinyl recording from the 1960's. This funeral music is literally sandwiched in between two Dharma songs on the cassette, showing how closely woven together "victory drum music" and Dharma songs are at some Cambodian funerals.