As in other South-East Asian cultures, music in
Laos can be divided into classical and folk traditions. The classical music
is the least interesting, simply because it is so imitative of the
classical traditions of Thailand and Cambodia.
Lao classical music was originally developed as court music for royal
ceremonies and classical dance-drama during the reign of Vientiane's Chao Anou, who had been educated in the Siamese court in Bangkok. The standard ensemble for this genre is the sep nyai and consists of khawng wong (a set of tuned gongs), the ranyaat (a xylophone-like instrument), the khui (bamboo flute) and the pii (a double-reed wind instrument similar to the oboe) - exactly the same instruments are used in the Thai pii-phda! ensemble.
practice of classical Lao music and drama has been in decline for some
time 40 years of intermittent war and revolution has simply made this
kind of entertainment a low priority among most Lao. Generally, the only time you'll hear this type of music is during the occasional public performance of the Pha Lak Pha Lam, a dance-drama based on the Hindu Ramayana epic.
Not so with Lao folk music, which has al-ways stayed close to the people. The principal instrument in the folk genre is the khden (French spelling: khene), a
wind instrument that is devised of a double row of bamboo like reeds
fitted into a hardwood sound box and made air-tight with beeswax. The
rows can be as Few as four or as many as eight courses (for a total of
16 pipes), and the instrument can vary in length from around 80cm to
2m. In the early 20th century there were also nine-course khaen but
these have all but disappeared. The khaen player blows into the sound
box while covering or uncovering small holes in the reeds that
determine the pitch for each (as with a harmonica, sound is produced
whether the breath is moving in or out of the instrument). An adept
player can produce a churning, calliope-like music that you can dance
to. The most popular folk dance is the lam wong (circle
performance) in which couples dance circles around one another until
there are three circles in all: a circle danced by the individual, a
circle danced by the couple, and one danced by the whole crowd.
The khaen is often accompanied by the saw (sometimes written so), a
bowed string instrument. In more elaborate ensembles the khui and
khawng wong may be added, as well as various hand drums. Khaen music
can also incorporate a vocalist. Most Lao pop music is based on vocal
khaen music. Melodies are almost always pentatonic, ie, they feature