Growing Rhythm

Kyaw Kyaw Naing (right) tutors a student member of the Naing Ensemble at SUNY New Paltz. Photo courtesy of Lauren Meeker.

By Lauren Meeker, SUNY New Paltz

In conjunction with the 2019 New York Conference on Asian Studies (NYCAS) on October 4-5, SUNY New Paltz hosted a series of workshops on Burmese music with funding from an AAS Council of Conferences (COC) Outreach Grant. The workshops brought together community members with New Paltz students and faculty in a series of meetings beginning in summer 2019 under the expert guidance of Kyaw Kyaw Naing.

Naing is an internationally recognized Burmese pat waing percussionist and former director of the Burmese National Orchestra. In the workshops, Naing trained ensemble members to play a variety of traditional Burmese instruments and pieces, culminating in a successful hsaing ensemble performance that took place at NYCAS on the evening of October 5th. This is the first time that a locally trained group has performed a hsaing ensemble in the United States. The process was documented in a short film by Lauren Meeker (Anthropology, SUNY New Paltz) and Alyson Hummer (SUNY New Paltz student and ensemble member) entitled Growing Rhythm (2019, 12:31):

Growing Rhythm from Lauren Meeker on Vimeo.

“Growing Rhythm” is the title of a piece that Naing composed specially for the new ensemble (The Naing Ensemble) that premiered in March at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn with a small subset of the group’s musicians. The NYCAS concert also included a performance by a Filipino Kulintang ensemble led by Hudson Valley-based composer and percussionist Susie Ibarra, and several Burmese sandaya piano pieces performed by Alex Peh (Music, SUNY New Paltz). The concert was a great success and the ensemble played to a full house of students, faculty, administration, community members, and conference attendees.

The Naing Ensemble rehearses at SUNY New Paltz. Photo courtesy of Lauren Meeker.

The ensemble is part of a broader goal to build a focus on Southeast Asian music and culture at SUNY New Paltz and in the surrounding community. The work started in the Naing Ensemble is ongoing. Naing continues to work with the group, and also taught a credit-bearing class in hsaing ensemble performance at SUNY New Paltz this fall. The college has a new course, “Indonesian Music and Culture,” planned for spring to be taught by Jody Diamond, a gamelan instructor and composer and member of the Naing Ensemble. Peh and Alyson Hummer will accompany Kyaw Kyaw Naing on a trip to Myanmar this winter to learn about Burmese music on site, and Hummer and Meeker plan to assemble an extended version of their film in the spring for broad distribution. These are all exciting developments that have grown out of the initial formation of the workshops funded in part by the COC Outreach Grant.