Conductor: Thailand began to heal when singing royal anthem

anthem6Thailand, a society suffering from sharp political and social divisions during the past decade, began the process of healing when nearly 200,000 people of all classes and political colors joined to sing the royal anthem last week in front of the Grand Palace where the body of the late King Bhumibol lies in state, said the internationally acclaimed conductor who led the mass performance.

“In a sense it could be the moment when Thailand begins to heal itself. To me, that was the historic nature of it. It was the beginning of a long process of healing. Hundreds of thousands of people came together as one and had a huge outpouring of shared emotions,” said Somtow Sucharitkul, who conducted the mass singing event to honor the late King.

An official video of the event is currently in production and should be released shortly, although news media and amateur videos of the mass singing can be found on the internet, where they have garnered nearly 4 million views so far. The scenes are extremely moving as people, tears streaming down their faces, hold aloft photos of King Bhumibol as they sing the anthem composed during the 1868-1910 reign of his grandfather King Chulalongkorn, the Fifth King of the Chakri Dynasty. It was written by Russian Pyotr Shchurovsky and later reworked by Dutch national Wilhelmus Heutzen.

Somtow is an internationally renowned composer, conductor, science fiction and fantasy writer. He has composed five symphonies and a ballet, and was awarded the “Golden W” from the International Wagner Society for presenting that classical composer’s work throughout the region. Somtow has also been a political commentator, writing a column for The Nation newspaper and online. In his political writings, he has always striven for balance in explaining the views and grievances of different groups in society, especially the opposing Yellow Shirt and Red Shirt political groups.

The Yellow-Red divide has plagued Thailand for a decade, and some have wondered how long it will take the divisions to heal. King Bhumibol frequently called for national unity and an end to conflict in his public speeches and statements. “The problems exist because we don’t talk to each other and resolve them together. Those who confront each other will all be the losers. And the loser of the losers will be the nation,’’ King Bhumibol told the leaders of rival factions as far back as 1992 when he intervened to end bloodshed during a political crisis.

Somtow believes the King’s passing has led many people to hear his messages anew and take them to heart.

“Despite the frustrations of the last several years, there is a unified voice. People are united in the special relationship they had with the late king. And that’s a unique feeling that other countries do not have. It is what gives this country a singular identity. Music is almost a supernatural way of healing wounds. Music is the beginning of healing,” Somtow said.