When Veasna Prom hits his sweat-soaked guitar strings, nobody would take him for a company manager. But the 27-year-old is living his dream by successfully steering the Thea Heng Music School in Phnom Penh.
Prom, from a middle-class family in Prey Veng, doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of a heavy-metal rocker.
Together with his team at Thea Heng, he tries to connect, develop and promote Cambodia’s music scene.
“I love music, and I couldn’t find anything better,” he says.
Thea Heng Music School, in Tuol Kork, is a venture of the Thea Heng Musical Instrument Store, which was established in 1982 and now has three branches in the capital.
Within a year, the school grew to 20 employees and 200 students, and is eyeing further expansion.
“Music creates harmony within people, helps to improve brain performance and allows people to express themselves. That’s why it should be part of education, I think,” Prom says, adding that public education often fails to meet this requirement.
Only about nine private schools in Phnom Penh provide music education, and even in public institutions with good reputations - which are often difficult to access - students need more than the allotted time to develop their musical skills.
“You have to try hard if you want to become a musician. The more you practise, the more you can do,” Prom says.
This music teacher, how-ever, is skilled not only in music but also in management.
Before he took responsibility for Thea Heng, he studied management and worked as a project assistant for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, a brand assistant for Tiger Beer and a marketing manager at retail merchandiser Cambo Richfield.
“Sometimes I feel tired from all the responsibilities at work and the concerts, but then I realise I’m lucky to be doing what I’ve always wanted to do: music,” Prom says.
Meanwhile, his business is growing slowly but steadily.
“The first year was quite good, so we plan to further improve our equipment and our capacities,” Prom says.
He hopes to increase the number of students at his school in the future, but above all, he hopes to see his students improve the stand-ard of music education in the Kingdom.
“In Cambodia, music always is part of our daily life. Everybody listens to it, everywhere. I hope that with the growth of the middle class, the awareness of its value will wake them up.”
Musicians in Cambodia are still paid five to 10 times less than big-name singers, so musicians like Prom often have full-time jobs as well.
“Some people play music to live, but we live to play music,” he says. “That’s not very fair, and we hope to work on that.”
To promote the lot of mus-icians, Prom and his partners have set up the Cambo Headbanger network.
“We learn, we share and we perform: that’s also the concept of the music school,” he says, adding that Thea Heng’s students can prove their skills on the stage every Friday.
Networking helps to develop creativity and slowly the standard is growing, Prom says.
“To strengthen the value of music in Cambodia, we need a society that supports us and knows about its significance.
“Until then, the only one that can help us is ourselves by improving music skills and constantly working creatively,” says Prom, who is experimenting with Khmer lyrics.
“We also need to meet the demands of the market.
“It is very challenging to compose Khmer lyrics for heavy-metal songs [for our band Sliten6ix] due to its sound, but that’s the language our audience understands and demands.”