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Music school sets the beat for students

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Students of Simphony Music School at band practice. Photograph: Marcus Casey/Phnom Penh Post

John Lennon helped create the soundtrack for the generation of culture changing baby boomers who remember him and his work with The Beatles as if it all happened yesterday.

But to a Phnom Penh three piece pop and rock band with members aged 10 to 14, he may as well be Beethoven, an ancient old man whose music still impresses more than modern memories of the man himself.

The three youngsters this week formed the first such band to emerge from the two-year-old Simphony Music School, which teaches ex-pat and Cambodian children the magic of playing a musical instrument which feeds that particular hunger of the human soul.

Mary Bird, just 14 and the keyboard engine room of the young and as-yet unnamed band (after all, we met them in their eighth hour of jamming), seems quite the leader of her troupe.

“Ï want to become a singer and piano player and I’m learning so many skills here, and I have grown so much as a musician since I have been coming here,” she says.

Their teacher is Frenchman Thomas Willem, and he decided the first song his young band should learn was Lennon’s epic 1971 song of humanity called Imagine.

“I wanted them to learn a modern classic song like the old classics, so they could learn the difference,’’ says the young jazz musician who plays in bands around town.

His drummer is 10-year-old Dustine John Javier, a child from the Philippines with such a soft touch you can only imagine where his skill will lead him – indeed, he doesn’t know what profession he wants at this stage but appreciates learning how to bang the drums.

“I am too young to decide, and anyway I can only practice here because our neighbours would not like all the noise,”he says.

Filling out the trio is Vietnamese student Vinh Tran, who runs through a few riffs from Oasis’s classic Wonderwall just to show us he can play.

Mary says the plan for their new three piece is to write original songs – and points directly at her co-members for contributions she would oversee.

The Simphony Music School has around 200 students attending each year – 50-per-cent Cambodian and 50-per-cent foreigners.

Classical piano tutor Jessica Chen says local parents have an increasing appreciation of teaching their children music, encouraging them to practice on pianos which were originally purchased as furniture pieces for homes.

“The most important thing is that we get the students young “- hopefully around five - and learn their strengths and weaknesses, and then refine their fingers and train them to their best ability,’’ the Taiwanese says.

“Ït can be harder to do so when they are older.”

The school recently held a major concert for students, attended by many family and relatives compared to 18 months ago when students would play to an empty rooms.

Another sign of the growing times in Cambodia.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marcus Casey at marcus.casey@phnompenhpost.com

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