Long after UCLA students left Schoenberg Hall for the day during winter 2015, Supeena Insee Adler was still working well into the night there, repairing old Thai musical instruments — some of them broken — that had been left unused, covered with cobwebs and forgotten since 1985.
In 2014, Adler, a classical Thai musician and instrument repairer in San Diego, was given the mission of bringing about 40 of these instruments back to life by Helen Rees, professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA and director of its vast world music instrument collection. “Enough is enough,” Rees had said. At her request, the department earmarked $8,000 to have Adler come to UCLA to restore them.
That was the beginning of a successful project that has not only given the instruments back their voices and provided students access to them for classroom use and concerts, but has also built a strong bond between UCLA’s ethnomusicology department in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and the Thai community in Los Angeles and Thailand. Last month, to express their appreciation and build upon the goodwill generated by the project, Rees, Adler, and archivist Aaron Bittel from UCLA’s ethnomusicology department traveled to Thailand to speak at a music symposium about the project and the department’s extensive archive of world music.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of this project has been the way it has renewed 60-year-old ties between UCLA ethnomusicology and Thai classical musicians and scholars of the Luang Praditphairoh Thai Music Foundation in Bangkok,” said Rees. “It has also created new ties with the Thai and Thai-American community in Southern California.”