Finding Unexpected Connections Between Hawaiian and Thai Monarchs

Rachel Breitweser ’03

September 11, 2017

Elephants, an emerald Buddha and puppet theater. These were just a few things Marlene Patton saw in Thailand over the summer through the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program 2017. Patton teaches seventh-grade Choir and Music Explorations, and eighth-grade Musical Theater.

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During a four-week trip, Patton and a group of teachers from across the Continental U.S. met with nonprofit organizations and educational organizations from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

The group immersed themselves in the culture and history of Thailand. They visited Buddhist temples, archeological sites, silk manufacturers, an elephant sanctuary, a puppet theater performance and local rice farmers, to name a few. They also visited schools and listened to talks from local educators about their experiences teaching in Thailand.

Patton has a degree in ethnomusicology, the study of the music of different cultures, with a focus on Indonesia, so she already felt a strong connection to Southeast Asia. Her passion as a teacher centers around building global awareness and cultural empathy through the arts, particularly through music.

She was awestruck by the country’s reaction to the death of their beloved ninth monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away October 2016 after serving the country for 70 years. “Everywhere we went, people were in mourning and out of respect wore black,” she explained. “When they talked about him, tears would fall.”

It was clear to Patton how much of an influence he had on the country. He was known for taking unpleasant situations and bringing hope, starting new agricultural business to replace opium, for instance.

Surprisingly, King Bhumibol (also known as King Rama IX) is credited with bringing jazz music to Thailand. While studying in the West, he fell in love with and studied jazz, including saxophone and clarinet. When he returned to his native country, he began composing his own music, blending the jazz style with Thai lyrics and themes.

Patton was struck by connections she saw between King Bhumibol and Hawai‘i’s beloved Queen Lili‘uokalani, who combined traditional Hawaiian melodies with western harmonies brought by the missionaries. “Both monarchs saw the importance of the arts and promoted them,” Patton said.

Back at Punahou, Patton will be creating several curricular units including a comparison of these two musical influencers and their relationships with their people. While on the trip, reflection and discussion among her fellow teachers were valuable in Patton’s creation of the new curricula.

“For me as a musician, the experiences I gained in Thailand reiterated what I always try to do, which is to inspire cross-cultural understanding. If we could learn from each other through the arts, we could better address many of the world’s issues and misunderstandings,” Patton shared.

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