Friday, October 2, 2009

XII. Concerning Musick, and the Exercises of the Body.



Concerning Musick, and the Exercises of the Body. The Siameses have no Art in Singing; They have not several parts in their Consorts; Their Instruments the Rebeck, Hoboy, Basons; The Ear guides them, no person beating the Time; The Tlounpounpan; The Tapon; The Confort which follows the King in his Marches; Instruments accompanying the Voice; Trumpets and Drums; They have false ones to make a show; The Exercises of the Body.

Musick is not better understood at Siam, than Geometry and Astronomy. They make Airs by Fancy, and know not how to prick them by Notes. They have neither Cadence, nor quaver no more than the Castilians: but they sometimes sing like us without words, which the Castilians think very strange; and in the stead of words, they only say noi, noi, as we do say lan-la-lari. I have not remark’d one single Air, whose measure was triple, whereas those are without comparison the most familiar to the Spaniards. The King of Siam, whithout shewing himself, heard several Airs of our Opera on the Violin, and it was told us that he did not think them of a movement grave enough: Nevertheless the Siameses have nothing very grave in their Songs; and whatever they play on their Instruments, even in their Kings march, is very brisk. They understand not more than the Chinese the diversity of Parts in composition; they understand not the Variety of the Parts; they do all sing Unisons. Their Instruments are not well chose, and it must be thought those, wherein there appears any knowledge of Musick, have them brought from other parts.

They have very ugly Rebecks or Violins with three strings, which they call Tro, and some shrill Hoboys which they call Pi, and the Spaniards Chirimias. They play not ill, and accompany them with the noise of certain copper Basons, on each of which a man strikes a blow with a short stick, at certain times* (*The Ear guides them, no person beating the Time.) in each measure. These Basons are hung up by a string, each as a Pole laid a-cross upon two upright Forks: the one is called Schoungschang, and it is thinner, broader, and of a graver sound than the other, which they call Cong.

To this they add two sorts of Drum, the Tlounpounpan, and the Tapon. The wood of the Tlounpounpan is about the size of our Timbrels, but it is cover’d with skin on both sides like a true Drum, and on each side of the wood hangs a leaden ball to a string. Besides this the wood of the Tlounpounpan is run through with a stick which serves as a handle, by which it is held. They rowl it between their hands like a Chocolate-stick, only that the Chocolate stick is held inverted, and the Tlounpounpan strait: and by this motion which I have described, the Leaden Balls which hang down from each side of the Tlounpounpan, do strike on each side upon the two Skins.

The Tapon resembles a Barrel; they carry it before them, hung to the Neck by a Rope; and they beat it on the two Skins with each fist.

They have another Instrument composed of ……., which they call Patcong. The …… are all placed successively every one on a short stick, and planted perpendicular on a demi-circumference of Wood, like to the felleys of a little Wheel of a Coach. He that plays on this Instrument is seated at the center cross-legg’d; and he strikes the…….with two sticks, one of which he holds in his right hand, and the other in his left. To me it seems that this Instrument had only a fifth redoubled in extent, but certainly there was not any half notes, nor any thing to stop the sound of one……., when another was struck.

The March which they sounded at the entrance of the Kings Ambassadors, was a confused noise with all these Instruments together: The like is sounded in attending on the King of Siam; and this noise, as fantastical and odd as it is, has nothing unpleasant, especially on the River.

They sometimes accompany the Voice with two short sticks, which they call Crab, and which they strike one against the other; and he that sings thus, is stiled Tchang cap. They hire him at Weddings with several of those Instruments I have mentioned. The people do also accompany the Voice in the Evening into the Courts of the Houses, with a kind of Drum called Tong. They hold it with the Left hand, and strike it continually with the Right hand. ‘Tis an earthen Bottle without a bottom, and which instead thereof is covered with a Skin tyed to the Neck with Ropes.

The Siameses do extreamly love our Trumpets, theirs are small and harsh, they call them Tre, and besides this they have true Drums, which they call Clong. But tho’ their Drums be lesser than ours, they carry them not hanging upon their Shoulder: They set them upon one of the Skins, and they beat them on the other, themselves sitting cross-leg’d before their Drums. They do also make use of this sort of Drum to accompany the Voice, but they seldom sing with these Drums but to dance.

On the day of the first Audience of the King’s Ambassadors, there were in the innermost Court of the Palace an hundred Men lying prostrate, some holding for show those ugly little Trumpets which they sounded not, and which I suspect to be of wood, and the others having before them every one a little Drum without beating it.

By all that I have said, it appears that in some cases the Mathematics are as much neglected at Siam, as the other Sciences. They have Exercises of the Body in no more Esteem than those of the Mind. They know not what the Art of Riding the Great Horse is: Arms they have none, except the King gives them some; and they cannot purchase any, till he has given them some. They exercise them only by the Order of this Prince. They never fire the Musquet standing, no not in War: To discharge it, they place one Knee on the ground, and frequently proceed to sit on their Heel, stretching forward the other Leg, which they have not bent. They hardly know to march, or keep themselves on their Feet with a good grace. They never stretch out their Hams well, because the are accustomed to keep them bended. The French taught them how to stand to their Arms, and till the arrival of the King’s Ships at Siam, their Sentinels themselves sat upon the ground. So far are they from running Races, purely for Recreation sake, that they never walk abroad. The heat of the Climate causes a great Consumption in them. Wrestling, and Fisty-cuffs, are the Jugler’s Trade. The running of Balons is therefore their sole Exercise. The Oar and Pagaye are in this Country the Trade of all the People from four or five years old. They can Row three days and three nights almost without resting, altho’ they cannot undergo any other Work.

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