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Faculty & Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Ben Fairfield

Dr. Ben Fairfield, University of Hawaiʻi (2017) alumnus, was awarded his PhD in Ethnomusicology in 2017. He is also a former Foreign Language and Area Studies FLAS awardee (2015) and East-West Center Graduate Degree Fellow (2010-2012). Since graduating, he has been active on the Thai music scene as a researcher, teacher, and performer.

Dr. Fairfield and his handmade instruments at the 2019 SPAS Graduate Student Conference on Asian Studies.

Dr. Fairfield received a 2019-20 Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant to research Karen music, identity, and representation at the Karen Ecomuseum in Mae Sot, Thailand. He plans to be in Thailand from May-August 2020.

Dr. Fairfield is currently affiliate faculty with the Music Department, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and on the staff of the University of Hawaiʻi Press. His recent publications include “Ethnic and Village Unity: Symbolized or Enacted: Lahu Music-Dance and Ethnic Participation in Ban Musoe, Thailand” (Asian Music 49:2:71-105, 2018) and the English translation Forbidden Songs of the Pgaz k’Nyau of the Thai publication by Chi Suwichan Phattanaphraiwan, which appeared in Ethnomusicology Translations (SEM) in 2018.

Handmade Instruments

Dr. Fairfield has hand made several instruments in preparation for his fall course MUS311M: ‘Thai Ensemble’, which will include a component where students build the instruments they will learn to play. These instruments were crafted out of bamboo sourced from outside the Art Building at UHM and other repurposed materials. On Thursday, April 11, as part of the opening ceremony of the SPAS Graduate Student Conference, he performed as part of a Thai ensemble which played Phu Yai Lee, “the quintessential Thai protest song”, utilizing some of the handmade instruments.

Above, photos of the handmade instruments, featuring materials such as rice and coffee bags, tea tins, chopsticks, fishing line, PVC, and bamboo.

The ensemble performing at the SPAS Graduate Student Conference on April 11, 2019. From left to right: Benjamin Fairfield, Karen Honda, Austin Crowder, Heather Couture, Yuan-hsin Tung, Kirk Sullivan, and Susan Jacob.

You can watch Dr. Fairfield perform with the ensemble, below:

Thai Ensemble Performance, April 11, 2019

This Thai ensemble of faculty and student musicians performed during the opening ceremony of the 2019 School of Pacific and Asian Studies Graduate Student Co…

Fall 2019: Thai Ensemble Course

For more information about MUS311M: Thai Ensemble, see our post here.

Spring 2022: Thai Ensemble Course

In collaboration with the East-West Center and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, MUS311 “Thai” Ensemble* will return this Spring 2022 and we’ll be joined late in the semester by Artist-in-Residence & indigenous activist/musician/scholar Chi Suwichan Phatthanaphraiwan. In honor of Chi’s residency, the ensemble will focus on traditional Karen music, and will be structured along the same DIY/recycled instrument making motif as before.

For more information, see our post here.