Kse diev master dead, age 91

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Sok Duch plays kse diev, a traditional instrument, in Takeo province in 2014. Eli Meixler

Kse diev master dead, age 91

The country on Saturday lost its pre-eminent master of the kse diev, a long-necked single-string instrument that dates back to Angkorian times, with the death of Sok Duch at his home in Bati district in Takeo province. He was 91 years old.

Duch’s passing throws into doubt the future of the instrument – which is usually played at ceremonies like weddings – despite his efforts to keep it alive. As of 2014, only an estimated 20 players remained, all of whom were trained by Duch.

Duch started playing traditional Khmer music when he was 13, when he learned how to build the kse diev from his three uncles. He not only survived the rule of the Khmer Rouge, who distrusted the country’s artists, but played in a band during the Democratic Kampuchea period, before later being invited to play at the Royal Palace for King Norodom Sihanouk.

“We are so sad to have lost such a great father and grandfather,” said Lun Chomnith, Duch’s grandson and student. “There is no word that could describe our grief and the loss in Khmer traditional arts.”

A Unesco “living human treasure”, Duch was able to play and teach a variety of Khmer instruments, but the kse diev was his passion.

“As I am the surviving master of kse diev, I want to see young generations understand about Khmer culture, history and instruments, and preserve them after my last breath,” Duch told The Post in an interview two years ago.

Yorn Sokhorn, a program me coordinator at Cambodian Living Arts, who yesterday went to Takeo to attend Duch’s funeral with her colleagues, described the late master as an “irreplaceable artist” thanks to his devotion and contribution to Khmer traditional music.

“Working with him in many projects, especially those focusing on teaching traditional music to young people, allows me to understand that he was not only a great artist but a respectable man,” she says. “He was honest and serious, and put great effort and attention in teaching his students.”

Among his students was his grandson, Chomnith, whom he entrusted with carrying on his legacy and mission.“I am not as good as my grandfather, but I am doing my best fulfil his goal,” he said.

“When he stopped teaching due to being bedridden in the last two years, he always told us to do our best to protect and preserve our Khmer traditional arts.”

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