Tepniyum brings culture to WA

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Cambodian group playing together on the stage.

By Madhu Kaushik
Staff Writer

Strings tapped gently, drums readjusted on the floor of the auditorium’s stage. A few men clad in white suits with golden buttons cleared their throats and readied themselves, as the audience leaned forward, trying to make out the shapes of the foreign instruments, anticipating the first sound. Then the band began to play.

The Tepniyum Cambodian music group, led by flautist Rody Mom, consisted of eight band members in total played for and educated a group of WA students during long block on February 26. Four of the musicians in the band are masters of traditional Cambodian instruments.

Sovann Khon, the leader of the band, played the Tro-Sor, an instrument similar to an upright violin, except with only two strings and a bow located in between. Kimhan Meas played the Takhe, which is a large, boat-shaped instrument that involves complicated plucking of strings. Vith Chrorm, a folk dancer, played traditional drums that he himself designed.

Three students from UMass Lowell, Colin Murphy, Chris Powers, and Justin Oppus, joined the band under Professor Allan Williams. They are studying Wong Pleng Khmer, the traditional Cambodian music class, under the guidance of the masters.

A close friend of visual arts teacher Brandon Eang organized this event. After speaking to music teachers Ken Culver and Karen St. George, the group was scheduled to perform at the school. It is only a small fraction of the Cambodian band, which is also experienced in the art of folk dancing.

Mom specializes particularly in the Cambodian flute, though along with his fellow members, is multi-talented and able to play Western and Cambodian instruments alike.

The first song Tepniyum played for the audience was an old and well-known lullaby. It was followed by a lilting song emphasizing the flute, describing birds like the romance between young lovers.

Also performed was the song of the harvest, with Khon, Meas, and Chrorm playing solos on their respective instruments. The audience sat, utterly captivated, by the melodic rush of the bow on strings, and the hollow beat of Cambodian drums.

As the show was finishing, Rody Mom displayed his set of flutes. Though he taught himself how to play, initially learning on piccolos, the flautist explained how each one held a different story to him.

Finally, the event had come to a close. Students gathered around the stage, asking question after question. Towards the end, a few even tried their hand on the Tro-Sor and Takhe.

Eang and the other masters escaped from concentration camps in their home countries and made their way to the United States. Khon’s skills with the Tro-Sor saved his life in one of the camps, as his talent entertained his captors and was the reason for his survival. The masters lost loved ones during the communist occupation of Cambodia.

The band is based in Lowell and performs most of their events there. In addition to entertaining audiences with their unique music, Tepniyum travels from state to state, performing for various ceremonies and even weddings.