Home : Pong Lang Thai Music
Instrumental Music of Northeast Thailand
Phonglang has the way of playing as Thai xylophone does. Small wooden bars are placed in a row and get hit by a timber to create sounds of music, sometimes hanging on a post, stretching on supporting cradle or binding it with musicians. This instrument is widely founded in many countries. In Thailand, it is mostly founded in northeastern region and its name varies such as Makglingglom, Makkholor or Makphonglang. To call it Makkholor is due to the fact that after hitting each bar, the sound is sonorous like Kholor, which means a clapper in the Northeast.
The word “Phonglang” was previously used to call bronze cowbell. Perhaps it is because of the heard sound of ringing bell. Afterwards, this word was used to call the way of playing Khan (northeastern Thai reed mouth organ) imitating the sound of ringing bronze cowbell and called “Lai Phonglang). On the one hand, it is called Makglingglom because it sounds beautiful and be able to make the audiences enjoy.
Phonglang is popularly made of Mahad wood or Makleum wood because it is more stable than others. The method of making it is cutting and shaving the different desired shapes at first for the system of 5 tones. One set of Phonglang contains 12 wooden bars bound with rope. Hang it to a post and let it hang down. The end of another of rope will be bound with musicians’ leg or waist. The way of pitching each tone is to cut the wooden bar having different desired sizes and tones namely the more wooden is small, the more sound is high that is quite different from current Thai xylophone, which has 7 tones and the way of pitching each tone would use lead mixed with wax beneath the xylophone in order to acquire desired sounds. Playing Makglingglom or Phonglang is popular to use 2 musicians for one musical instrument. Each musician uses 2 hitting timbers. The title of songs played by Phonglang is mostly acquired by characteristics of song by observing the surrounding nature such as “Sai Bird Flying across Rice Field” or “Crows Dance”.
Besides playing Phonglang separately, it can be played with a band consisting of lutes, Thai reed mouth organs, and drums, which can produce Thai folk songs for folk dance quite well. Afterwards, Teacher Pleung Chairadsamee, a National Artist, has applied and adapted Phonglang by using bronze cowbells hanging in a row instead of using wooden bars that generate the different sound dimension from previous way of playing. This was a prototype of developing Phonglang in the following time. For example, Phonglang is made from different sizes of brass or using different sizes of sharpened bamboo sticks, which produce more bass and softer sounds.
Phonglang is called Makglingglom, Makteudeun in some regions. It was developed from “Grolor” of Khorlor. The word “Phonglang” is used to call a type of music that widely spreads in the central and upper part of the Northeast especially in Galasin province, the origin of Phonglang. The meanings of Phonglang derive from 2 words namely “Phong” and “Lang”.
“Phong” is a clapper for alerting at night in case of bad incidents; in the morning before monks go out for receiving food in order to make people prepare their food for monks; in the evening for those who lost their ways in the forest because Phonglang sound can be heard even being in a remote place (in the past it was hit in a temple). “Lang” means good or bad omen.
Before it acquires the name “Phonglang” it was called “Grolor”. The brief information is that Thao Phrommakhod, who used to be in Laos, invented Grolor by imitating a village’s clapper at the moment. Grolor is made of Makleum wood (white and soft wood generating resonant sound) bound with climbers. It was used for chasing birds or crows eating rice seeds in a field. After that Thao Phrommakhod moved to Ban Klang Meung, Meung District, Galasin Province and transferred the knowledge of hitting Grolor to Mr. Pan. Afterwards, Mr. Pan changed the model of 6-wooden bar Grolor to be 9-wooden bar Grolor, which has 5 tones namely Do Re Me Fa Sol. When Mr. Pan died, his younger brother, Mr. Khan was transferred and taught such knowledge of hitting Grolor and Mr. Khan is a person, who transferred the knowledge of hitting Grolor to a National Artist, Mr. Pleung Chairadsamee, who makes Phonglang widely well-known.
Due to the fact that Grolor is used for chasing birds and crows in rice field, it is widely used in every farmhouse (In the Northeast, a farmhouse called Tiengna). After finishing work, farmers would take a rest in farmhouse and used Grolor as hitting musical instrument for recreation; however, Grolor would be played outside a village only, because the villagers believed that if it is hit in a village, bad events will arise such as drought.
Learning the way of hitting and playing Grolor in the past was to memorize by heart about rhythms of each Lai (playing method). The 9-wooden bar Grolor can be played with 2 Lai (playing method) namely Lai Arn Seu Yai and Lai Sud Sa Nan (exactly like Lai Khan and Lai Phin). Therefore, the sound would very inspired when all methods of playing (Lai) and instruments combine together.