Phoeun Srey Peou, Trent Walker: "Dharma Songs: Buddhist Melodies from Cambodia"
Cambodian Dharma songs, also known as smot, form a centuries-long tradition of Buddhist liturgical practice in Cambodia. Known for their elaborate, haunting melodies and rich vocal ornamentation, Dharma songs resemble a mix of Gregorian chant and a cappella gospel, telling stirring religious stories and exhortations in the Khmer and Pali languages. The tradition nearly disappeared in the wake of the Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979), but has since been revived throughout the country as an essential expression of Buddhist faith and Khmer identity. This event features Phoeun Srey Peou, one of the best-known Dharma song performers in Cambodia today, with introductions and translations by Trent Walker, a research fellow at HCBSS who studies the tradition.
Phoeun Srey Peou began her studies of Dharma songs with Masters Prum Ut and Koet Ran in Kampong Speu province in rural Cambodia in 2003. A scholarship from the arts education organization Cambodian Living Arts in 2007 enabled her to move to Phnom Penh to pursue her studies at Pannasastra University as well as with professors of poetry recitation and traditional music at the Royal University of Fine Arts. She has performed on national television numerous times and has several albums to her credit. This is Ms. Phoeun's second performance tour to the United States.
Trent Walker, Stanford '10, began his research on Dharma songs as a fellow of Cambodian Living Arts in 2005. Under the direction of Religious Studies professors Paul Harrison and Linda Hess, his thesis, entitled "Quaking and Clarity: Samvega and Pasada in Cambodian Dharma Songs," won several awards from Stanford, including the David Kennedy Honors Thesis Prize for the best undergraduate thesis in the humanities. He is currently a research fellow at HCBSS as he works to turn his thesis into a book manuscript for publication.