Pi Phat ensemble
Pi Phat is a type of Thai musical ensemble comprising mainly the “striking instruments”, namely Ranat Ek, Ranat Thum, Ranat Thum Lek, Khong Wong Yai, and Khong Wong Lek; wind instruments - such as Pi, Khlui; and ‘tempo control and time marking instruments’ such as Ta-phon, Klong That, for example. Pi Phat embraces aspects of culture that include the musical instruments used in the ensemble, the beliefs, values, norms, customs, traditions, and rules. Pi Phat ensemble is performed in the royal ceremonies and public festivities in musical concerts or as an accompaniment to the Khon (mask dance drama), Nang Yai (grand shadow puppet spectacle), Lakhon (dance drama), Hun Krabok (bamboo puppet theatre), and Li-ke (folk dance drama). Pi Phat ensemble also features during sorrowful occasions related to the death rituals -- a funeral ceremony where the Buddhist monks perform a funeral chant and a cremation, for example. Pi Phat ensemble is sub-divided into six sub-types as follows:
1. Pi Phat Mai Khaeng ensemble
Pi Phat Mai Khaeng is the prototype of all other sub-types of Pi Phat ensemble. Previously called Phin Phat ensemble, it was changed to the presently popular name Pi Phat ensemble by HRH Prince Naritsara Nuwattiwong. Mai Khaeng, literally “hard wooden stick”, refers to the unpadded wooden mallets for striking on the bars of the Ranat Ek (Ranat - Thai xylophone; Ek - the main or leading instrument in the ensemble). Pi Phat Mai Khaeng ensemble features in royal ceremonies and commoners’ rites -- the merit-making during the house-warming rite, the ordination ceremony, and the religious festivals. It is also used to accompany dramatic performances and today it also performs in music concerts.
2. Pi Phat Se-pha ensemble
Created during the reign of King Rama II, this sub-type introduced either Luk Poeng or Song Na (two-faced) drum into the Pi Phat Khrueang Ha (five instruments) ensemble. The drum beats time and the rhythmic pattern, or Na Thap, as the ensemble accompanies the Se-pha singing, Lakhon Se-pha performance, or performs in music concerts.
3. Pi Phat Mai Nuam ensemble
Pi Phat Mai Nuam was introduced during the reign of King Rama V by Chao Phraya Thewetwongwiwat (Mom Ratchawong (a royal title) Lan Kunchon), who re-arranged the Pi Phat band as well as the instrumental and the accompaniment parts. He substituted Khlui Phiang O (medium size fipple flute) and Khlui Lip (small size fipple flute) for Pi Nai (soprano oboe) and Pi Nok (sopranino oboe) and added So U (alto fiddle) to the ensemble. Unpadded wooden mallets are replaced by padded wooden mallets for the Ranat Ek (soprano bamboo xylophone). Pi Phat Mai Nuam ensemble performs in accompaniment to the Khon and Lakhon.
4. Pi Phat Duekdamban ensemble
First created during the reign of King Rama V by HRH Prince Naritsara Nuwattiwong in 1898. The Pi Phat Duekdamban ensemble was conceived to accommodate the newly emerged type of musical drama - a hybrid of Lakhon Nai and the Western opera - which was devised by Chao Phraya Thewetwongwiwat (Mom Ratchawong Lan Kunchon). As the venue for the new type of musical drama, Chao Phraya Thewetwongwiwat built a new theatre hall which he named “Duekdambam Theatre”. The name caught on and was applied also to the new type of the musical drama and the ensemble. Pi Phat Duekdamban ensemble comprises Ranat Ek, Ranat Thum, Khong Wong Yai, Ranat Thum Lek, Khlui Phiang O, Khlui U, So U, Ta-phon, Klong Ta-phon, seven Khong Hui, and a pair of Ching.
5. Pi Phat Nang Hong ensemble
The Pi Phat Nang Hong1 ensemble was conceived specifically for woeful occasions. It is a combination of the Pi Phat ensemble and the Bua Loi ensemble which features a Pi Chawa, two Klong Malayu, a Khong Meng. The name “Bua Loi” comes from the fact that the Phleng Rua Sam La tune in the Phleng Pra-khom suite is always followed by the Bua Loi tune before other tunes will be played. Pi Phat Nang Hong therefore includes the Pi Chawa and the Klong Malayu from the Bua Loi ensemble, but excludes the Khong Meng; while some instruments that are typical of the Pi Phat ensemble, namely Pi Nai and Ta-phon, are also excluded, although Klong That is still used in the Pi Phat Nang Hong ensemble in several regions of the country. The name “Nang Hong” comes from the fact that the performance custom prescribes that the Phleng Rueang Nang Hong (a tune with unique rhythmic pattern called Nang Hong) must be played.
6. Pi Phat Mon ensemble2
This sub-type mixes some musical instruments from the Pi Phat Mai Khaeng ensemble - Ranat Ek, Ranat Thum, Ranat Ek Lek and Ranat Thum Lek - with some of those of the Mon ethnic group - Pi Mon, Khong Mon Wong Yai, Khong Mon Wong Lek, Ta-phon Mon, Poeng Mang Khok, and three Mong. The percussion section comprises Ching, Chap Lek, Chap Yai, and Krap. The performance custom follows that of the Thai traditional music. The ensemble can play at various occasions. It features at the festivals and auspicious ceremonies of the Mon Thai people. It can perform as an accompaniment to singing in a concert and Li-ke performance. It can play at woeful occasions such as at funerals when the Buddhist monks deliver the funeral chant and at cremation ceremonies.
Today, Pi Phat ensemble has become less popular because of the changes in social values and people today hardly hire a Pi Phat ensemble. The sub-types such as the Pi Phat Mai Khaeng, Phi Phat Se-pha, Pi Phat Duekdamban, and Pi Phat Nang Hong have become rarities. In some instances, the Government agencies and the private sector support the formation, and organize educational demonstrations, of these ensembles. However, these instances are not brought forth through a cultural process or folk way. As an intellectual cultural heritage, Pi Phat ensemble therefore warrants urgent safeguarding and proper management.