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An Operatic Hmong Voice

Let’s face it. The opera scene in Chiang Mai is relatively hard to come by. Aside from the 2nd Chiang Mai Ginastera International Music Festival coming this autumn, opportunities to hear and see live performance of classical music and operatic excellence are hard to come by. Lucky for us, there is something in the interim, with Fun, a vocal performance student at Payap University, who is giving new life to the local musical scene.

Hailing from a Hmong Village in Nan, Fun was exposed to music through her mother, a musically-inclined schoolteacher. At the age of six, Fun was inspired by her older sister, seeing her compete in singing competitions and she soon realised that she wanted to pursue singing seriously after performing in front of her village during the New Year’s celebration. “I was filled with joy,” said Fun as she recalled the night that would become the first day of the beginning of her musical career.

Fun’s college career and developing success did not come easy. Through some good luck, she enrolled into the College of Dramatic Arts in Bangkok for a high-school graduate study programme, before returning north to Payap University in Chiang Mai to complete her undergraduate studies. Attendance was not easy throughout university, being so far from home she often missed classes or had to earn enough money to keep herself afloat by juggling a series of part time jobs, singling classes and freelance work singing at weddings, events and bars around town.

“It was a very tiring time,” explained Alan John Austin, a friend of Fun who has taken it upon himself to be her vocal coach. “Now she is in her final year, classes will soon be over and she can focus on her musical career,” he continued. “She plans to apply to study at a well-respected music school overseas.”

Fun expressed her dreams of traveling abroad and learning new singing styles, like the classical and operatic styles she is currently exploring with the help of Austin. “I would love to go to Australia,” she said smiling. “It’s close to Thailand and it would be a good place to start.”

However, before she shoots off and leaves us Northern Thailanders to our local ways, she is dedicating more and more time to bring her voice to those in Chiang Mai, at both concerts and freelance jobs.

“My most enlightening experience to date was singing Carmina Burana at a show put on by Payap University,” she said, explaining that to those in the scene will know of how notoriously difficult it is to get right. “I thought to myself, can I do this? I was not sure of myself at all. But once I practiced and then performed it I realised I could do it. It was my biggest Wow moment!” Fun said another part of her love of music is that when she sings a song to a crowd, she often finds herself exploring how the lyrics stir the emotions of those listening. “It’s a long way from my traditional roots, but the feelings I have when I sing are just the same.”

On April 1st, Fun will be performing at Payap again at the CRK Recital Hall from 7.30pm. Admission is free, but donations are suggested. If you want to hear the voice of this traditional Hmong tribe singer turned operatic masterpiece, take a few hours out of your day to attend. Citylife was lucky enough to get a preview at her rehearsal last week and we must admit, she hits every note with grace, leaving us seriously impressed.