Culture

Rare Chants, and the Fear They May Disappear

Koet Ran (right) teaches the chants to around 30 students at Cambodia Living Arts, an NGO established to foster Cambodian art forms and Trent Walker (left) is an American PhD student at the University of Berkeley, who has spent years studying this and oth
Koet Ran (right) teaches the chants to around 30 students at Cambodia Living Arts, an NGO established to foster Cambodian art forms and Trent Walker (left) is an American PhD student at the University of Berkeley, who has spent years studying this and oth
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Nuch SaritaVOA Khmer

Sixty-year-old Koet Ran was born in a village in Kampong Speu province. Blinded in a farming accident in 1990, she has begun teaching students at an arts organization the tradition of “smot,” a form of Buddhist chanting.

Smot is performed at funerals, she told “Hello VOA” on Monday, “to prompt people to think about the meaning of their lives.”

“Smot is not only for funerals, but also other occasions, such as Pchum Ben, the birthday of the king or queen and other religious ceremonies,” she said.

Koet Ran teaches the chants to around 30 students at Cambodia Living Arts, an NGO established to foster Cambodian art forms.

She said a lot of people are frightened when they hear the chants and that she teaches her students their meaning and the source of that fear.

One of her students is Trent Walker, an American PhD student at the University of Berkeley, who has spent years studying this and other forms.

Walker, who also appeared on the show, said he had been going to Cambodia since 2005 to study different forms of chants, music and meditation.

On several tours, he met one teacher, Prum Ut, who passed away in 2009, as well as Koet Ran and her students at Cambodia Living Arts. He studied chanting styles and scripts in both the Pali and Khmer languages.

The teachings of the chants, he said, “remind us of the inexorable forces of change from birth to death.”

Walker has also studied musical instruments and traditions of Cambodia, as well as Pali and meditation and was ordained as a novice monk for five months.

“I’ve known Trent since about 2005, and since meeting him I’ve never stopped being impressed,” Koet Ran said. “He’s truly a dedicated student.”

During the show, both Koet Ran and Walker performed chants and music, including the song, in English, “Orpan’s Lament,” which extols the virtue of parents and the gratitude owed them by their children.

Many of the chants the two know are rarely heard anymore, and some are so difficult to learn that few can perform them.

“I fear this tradition may not last long,” Walker said. “These art forms will be lost if we do not care about them.”

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