Burmese Saing Waing is the grand orchestral tradition of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) comprising over 40 pitched finger drums and gongs played together with the piano and violin, appropriated from the west in the early 19th century. This music is rarely heard outside of Burma due to the brutal military regime that has suppressed the arts and closed off the country for the last three decades.
I came to America in search of a better life for my family, and to share the beautiful music of my people. I performed with my country’s finest musicians at the Asia Society in 2003 and performed with Bang on a Can at Brooklyn Academy of Music and Lincoln Center. Since then, I became an American citizen and have been teaching American musicians from my Hudson Valley community how to play Burmese percussion and piano. Together we have created the first Burmese-American ensemble in the United States, and one of the only ensembles in the world to exist outside of Myanmar.
I would like to write a 20-minute suite of contemporary Burmese Saing Waing pieces comprising mixed percussion, violin, flute, and piano, featuring the Naing Ensemble and pianist Alex Peh. This work would expand on a short sketch I wrote, Growing Rhythm, commissioned by Arts Mid Hudson that premiered at Marist College and Roulette Intermedium, Brooklyn NYC in 2019.
We would like to perform this work in a concert of Burmese music in collaboration with Unison Arts Center, our local music and arts organization based in New Paltz. They are partnering with us to launch a Burmese music ensemble program in the Hudson Valley, and help rebuild the Saing Waing ensemble that I lost when I left Myanmar.
My new work will incorporate Western instruments. This is a traditional practice that dates back to the 19th century when colonial rulers brought violins and pianos to Burma. Royal court musicians invented their own way of playing the piano, completely independent of Western classical piano tradition. Today, schools of young pianists thrive in Myanmar, playing only in the Burmese style called Sandaya. I have been working with pianist Alex Peh, training him in Sandaya piano and will feature him as a soloist in my new piece.
Contemporary Saing Waing music is a thriving practice in Myanmar today. New works are always featured in concert alongside traditional pieces. I hope to create the first American large scale work for my new ensemble to perform, one that suits their individual strengths and incorporates additional western instruments played in the Burmese style.
I am the only Burmese circle drummer and composer of Burmese music living in America, isolated from the musicians of my country. My dream is to teach and perform with the next generation of Saing Waing musicians in my new Hudson Valley community.
Start and End Dates
09/25/2020 — 09/25/2020
New Paltz, New York