By Catherine J.S. Lee
For the March 17th program of the Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center series, Lubec musician Jane Lanctot and friends presented a program of Cambodian music before a large and enthusiastic audience. Some of the styles and songs were 800 to 1,000 years old, dating from the Khmer Empire.

This “easternmost Cambodian band” consisted of Lanctot on the two-string Cambodian fiddle (tro-sau), Sineidin O’Niall on viola, Sarah Dalton-Phillips on flute, Gene Nichols on drums and mandolin, and Marc Perez on percussion. 

Lanctot, in addition to being a keyboard expert, is also an expert in Cambodian music, having studied for 18 years with Bun Leong, whom she describes as “the Gene Nichols of Cambodian music.” She traveled all over the US playing at traditional Cambodian wedding ceremonies with Bun Leong’s band.

Lanctot and friends performed several traditional styles, including a folk dance, a piece inviting ancestors to come, a Cambodian pop song from 1965, a monkey dance, and an Irish set (with Cambodian fiddle) for St. Patrick’s Day. The final song, “Glory of our Ancient Culture,” featured solos by Lanctot and Dalton-Phillips.

A tragic aspect of the history of Cambodian music was the Khmer Rouge reign of terror from 1975 to 1979 under the totalitarian rule of Pol Pot. The goal of the Khmer Rouge was to purge the country of elitism by eliminating the well-educated. Ninety percent of classical musicians in Cambodia perished; some who pretended illiteracy survived. Refugees who came to the US were desperate to bring back their culture, and it was from this chaotic time that Bun Leong’s Cambodian wedding band in the US was born.

Lanctot first heard Cambodian music at a Vietnamese restaurant and was immediately captivated. She has gone on to create a Cambodian-music website where the sheet music she’s created in various notations is accessed from all over the world.

Lanctot will repeat performance of this program at 6 pm, Friday, April 19, at LAMPS headquarters, 6 School Street, Lubec.

Catherine J.S. Lee is an Eastport educator and fiction writer who serves as president of Peavey Memorial Library and as a board member of the EAC.

Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center programs are held in Eastport Arts Center’s cozy downstairs Washington Street Gallery, amidst rotating exhibitions. Admission is by voluntary donation; proceeds are shared equally between the presenters and EAC ongoing program The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds. Find the full 2024 schedule and more posts about upcoming and past programs may be found at eastportartscenter.org/the-concert-series.