on singing while playing the cello (part 6: singing in multiple styles)

At one of the last Sulh Ensemble rehearsals before the social distancing we read through some Balkan tunes that I used to play in other groups. I had forgotten how wonderful some of those tunes are, and at the same time had forgotten some of the pronunciation of Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Serbian.

While listening to a lot of Suthep Wongkamhaeng (สุเทพ วงศ์กำแหง) today, I was also thinking about how great it would be to sing some of those tunes that I grew up listening to here in the US. Since Sulh Ensemble’s been doing more repertoire from Southeast Asia, I’m finally getting to sing in Thai again (as well as Malaysian, Indonesian, and Tagalog).

This reminded me of my posts about singing while playing the cello, something I’ve been doing for nearly 16 years now–and mostly in non-English languages! I almost st”Part 3″ of the series when I decided to do a search to make sure there were only two parts. As you can see by the title this is going to be the 6th part in the series. I’d also forgotten that I started writing these in 2009!

Since I’ve already written a bit about singing in multiple languages, this one might as well be about singing in multiple styles.

Multi-stylism seems to be one of the newest fads for musicians, though I must admit I’ve been relatively disappointed after listening to some of them. I touched on some of this in my previous post about singing in multiple languages:

Obviously, there are issues of mispronunciation as I’ve stated elsewhere, but this is no different than mispronouncing [instrumental] musical style.  In the end it is still an issue of getting outside of our idiosyncratic musical boxes–in other words, we should get ourselves to learn from something outside of our comfort zones so that we can grow as musicians.

I guess it’s an issue of being bi- or polymusical as opposed to simply performing music from different genres/styles but without regard for any differences that would come from being musically fluent in more than one style. Most multi-stylists seem to fall in the latter camp or, alternatively, are playing musical styles which are close enough to each other that it’s more code-switching between two musical dialects rather than between two musical languages. , Obviously, as with languages, some of us can mimic dialects better than others-while most of us can do bad stereotypes of different dialects. Listen to the examples of cello playing in my post about the Arabic Cello to see if you can notice the difference between Classical Arabic string style, compared to Western Classical string style.

The same thing can be said about singing in different musical styles. What little formal vocal training I’ve had is purely Western Classical. But I grew up singing Thai Luk Krung and other syncretic pan-Asian genres popular in the 60s (e.g. the Thai version of the Japanese “Ue o Muite Arukō“). At least at home. At school, it was the general music class choir until we were allowed into the strings program, and then giving into pressure to assimilate, American Pop.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get back to singing Thai; and after Suthep’s passing earlier this year the urge has gotten stronger. I had already planned a show featuring my Shadow Puppet Opera, “Hanuman: The Monkey King” which I would have been singing in Thai, though obviously that had to be cancelled once the IU campuses closed until June (or later as it may be). This would have been sung more in a Thai Classical Singing style mixed with Mor Lam since the Shadow play was to be more in the style of Nang Pramothai, a Northeast Thai Isan form of Shadow Puppetry. Note that I was born in Udon Thani, which is in the Isan region of Northeast Thailand.

Of course, I wouldn’t have been playing cello during the Shadow Puppet Opera–percussion mostly; and manipulating shadow puppets behind the screen during most of the lyrical dialogue. But now with the given time maybe I’ll write a couple of songs for cello and those vocal styles! I’ve mostly just sung Thai folk songs while playing cello, but both the Thai Classical Singing and Mor Lam are a bit more complex. That would mean figuring out how to adapt Thai string playing style to the cello, thus raising the difficulty level of singing and playing in a different style. I suppose that’s never stopped me before, right?



To read the previous 5 installments of this series, please follow this link:



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