Keri McCarthy, assistant professor of oboe and music history at WSU, was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture and research at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, during the 2011-2012 academic year.
She returned from her adventure abroad Oct. 1.
McCarthy explored the wonders of Thai music while immersed in a new culture. The smells of jasmine, incense and exotic foods were the backdrop for her to learn about traditional Thai culture.
The Fulbright Scholar program offers U.S. faculty, administrators and professionals grants to lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
With the grant, McCarthy studied the relationships between Thai tradition, art and music. She commissioned three new pieces for oboe duo from Thai composers Weerachat Premananda, AnoThai Nitibhon and Siraseth Pantura-Umporn.
“The pieces were designed to give me something tangible to start with,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy performed the works in concert this summer at Chulalongkorn University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Thailand. She collaborated with oboists from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.
“I felt like my project may very well be developing Thai music for oboe as part of the mission of the project and part of my mission in terms of my own personal research and performance,” she said.
McCarthy teaches music history and music research, but does not consider herself a musicologist.
“The project had elements of musicology but I am not a musicologist,” McCarthy said. “All of my degrees are in oboe and English horn performance.”
In 2004 McCarthy completed her doctorate in music literature and performance at Indiana University under the tutelage of Linda Strommen, Roger Roe and Ted Baskin. She completed a master's degree with Ronald Roseman at the Yale School of Music and a bachelor's degree at Ithaca College where she studied with Mark Hill and Paige Morgan.
“The term musicologist can be misleading because I do not do music history research, but my project does stem towards musicology,"she said."I was researching new composers in Thailand from a performer's standpoint, finding out what music was there and how that music ties in with a Thai aesthetic. I sought to study Thai traditional music to the extent that I would understand when it was being utilized in the new music.”
McCarthy focused on how to improve a performer’s ability to interpret a piece while remaining respectful of Thai music tradition, she said.
“I wanted to see where the interconnectedness of an American performer performing a Thai piece comes in,” she said. “How much information can be gleaned easily from things like YouTube, the composers themselves or information on the web that would help any performer play these pieces."
Copyrights in Thailand are almost nonexistent, McCarthy said. Many performers play from copied manuscripts, which can negatively affect modern Thai composers.
“Modern composers are dealing with an audience that prefers to hear the preserved repertoire,” she said. “On top of that, you do not have a way to sell the product that you are creating because nobody is going to buy it. They do not buy the originals and they are not going to buy your music either.”
If Thai composers sign a contract with a publisher outside of Thailand, the music becomes unavailable in Thailand.
“By doing this, composers would cut themselves out of a performance opportunity in their own country,” McCarthy said. “The individuals that we would consider Western style art music composers must make a living doing something other than composing.”
Oboe and double reeds in general are not a common instrument in Thailand, McCarthy said.
“The average annual salary is around $5,000 and $6,000 a year for a family of four,” she said. “To purchase a new oboe costs $7,000. It is really unlikely that these families are going to end up choosing the oboe as an instrument they want their children to play.”
For this reason, composers do not often write for oboe, she said.
McCarthy said the work she did in Thailand will work its way into curriculum.
“Now that I am back, I am certain that the material is going to work its way into curriculums in at least two classes," McCarthy said. “In music appreciation, where at the end of the class I talk about new music and Southeast Asian music and the connections between those two, and also in the musicology section of the music history classes.”
Part of the project involved interviewing Thai composers.
“These interviews I am hoping will work their way into a set of articles that are applicable for each instrument,” she said. “Along with the article, I want to give a list of composers that are currently working and the pieces that they have available for each instrument as well as their contact information.”
McCarthy said the articles will give both American and European performers the resources to obtain Thai music that is otherwise unavailable.
“I would like to go back again in ten years and do the same project and see what has changed,” she said.
McCarthy's next step will be to perform the commissioned works in fall 2012 as a faculty artist series recital. The recital will be paired with a presentation that will explore the traditional music of Thailand.