Death of a King, Death of an Artist

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On October 13, 2016, Thailand was met with the great loss of the beloved King, Bhumibol Adulyadej. His legacy of grace, devotion to his people, and practical way of life still remains a fresh memory in Thai minds.

Having cultivated an interest in the arts since he was a child, His Majesty self-studied the saxophone, and showed talents on the piano, the clarinet, and the trumpet. Often titled “The Supreme Artist,” he orchestrated 50 compositions, a three-movement ballet showed in Vienna, and other movements that, even to this day, remain classics and are often heard in Thailand. Whether heard in malls, train stations, or on the streets, his music inspires Thais in their day-to-day lives. Two of his most well-known classics are “Falling Rain” and “Candlelight Blues.”

Many Thai Choate students were inspired by the king. Annett Ho ’18 stated, “When I was young, every time I went home to Thailand, I would often play in charity concerts. A lot of the pieces I studied were composed by Nai Luang, the King. He was definitely a big part of my musical career, but his music also touched me as a Thai.”

King Bhumibol Adulyadej imported elements of European culture and music to Thailand, translating it into tunes that Thais could all connect with. His compositions united the people. Everyone, from the young to the elderly, from street food vendors to executives, from educators to students, enjoyed his music and felt enraptured. His work connected the Thai society to the monarchy; art was the translation of his hopes and a part of him that could be shared freely. His work changed the course of Thai music. It brought exposure to Western instruments, which produced a new sound.

Jazz Band member Ploy Chirathivat ’18 recalled, “Ever since I was young, I’ve always seen the pictures and videos of the King playing his saxophone and I thought it sounded beautiful. It was unlike any instrument that I have ever heard. When we had to choose instruments to play in middle school I chose to play the saxophone. The image of the King stuck with me; I was touched by the beauty of the music.”

King Bhumibol Adulyadej was also a gifted painter, and would spend most of his free time oil painting. Between 1959 to 1967, His Majesty produced more than 107 pieces of art. His passion for art was never-ending. Even when his duty drained him of time, a camera could always be found around his neck. In 1965, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was presented an Honorary Doctorate in Painting from Silapakorn University. Following the event, Bangkok’s Bicentennial Celebrations exhibited 47 of his paintings. His works greatly influenced the later generations of Thais.

The Rama IX Art Museum Foundation, established twenty years ago, holds a display of 200 pieces of art created by 150 different artists, including several of King Bhumibol’s paintings. Titled The Art of Rama IX Reign, it is considered one of the most significant Thai exhibitions of the modern era. The exhibition aspired to showcase the talent of the Thai people and the inspiration that was their Supreme Artist. Even with his passing, his art and music will continue to inspire.

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