The following post is co-written with Musical Instruments Curator Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford.
Early yesterday morning the world learned of the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, crowned in 1946 and known as the world’s longest-reigning monarch. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and educated in Switzerland and the United States, King Bhumibol was interested in musical performance and composition, and played clarinet and other reed instruments. In 1960, His Majesty visited the Library of Congress as part of an official visit to the United States. While visiting, the King presented the Library with ten musical instruments, including a pair of ching (hand cymbals), one thōn and one rammanā (small hand-played drums), two khlui ū (bamboo flutes, small and medium), one jakhē (čhakhē, a three-string zither), and two sq duang and two sq ū, both being forms of a vertically played two-string fiddle. A silver plaque accompanying the gift carried these engraved words: To the Library of Congress. This set of Thai musical instruments is presented as a token of sincere respect for a centre of knowledge and culture. Washington, DC, 1960.
Further enriching King Bhumibol’s generous gift made over half a century ago, the Music Division is also home to the Bhumibol Adulyadej (King of Thailand) Collection, consisting of his compositions (13 music manuscripts and 100 pieces of printed music), clippings, correspondence, and other miscellaneous documents. The collection had been assembled by Serge Rips, a friend of the King of Thailand. His Majesty’s original compositions are closely tied to traditional Thai musical influences; however, they simultaneously reflect his affinity for jazz and swing music. Specific jazz influences include Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, and Lionel Hampton, with whom he participated in jam sessions.