Karen hill tribe house / Photo Credit: Khun Hans
Karen hill tribe house / Photo Credit: Khun Hans
Author: Evan Szymanski
Date: April 6, 2016
Categories: Alumni|Communications|Impact|Intercultural Studies|Music

Aiming to help archive and preserve the disappearing music of the Karen people from Burma

This coming May, two Houghton alumni will travel to Thailand in an attempt to capture a moment of culture. Specifically, they want to capture the disappearing music of the Karen people.

Perched on the border between Thailand and Burma and rocked by political unrest and the resulting influx of international aid workers, the Karen people have a shifting musical culture. Within a few decades, the current auditory cocktail that makes up the fabric of this group’s life will have vanished and, with it, this generation’s story.

Hoping to record this story and make it freely accessible online, Houghton College alumni Joshua Stitt ’14 (music major) and Cory Martin ’14 (communications major) and photographer Peter Hershey will be embarking on what they call “The Noted Project,” a two-month stay in Mae Sot, Thailand, during which they will be collecting samples of music, taking photos, transcribing interviews and producing five short films. Everything will then be compiled on a website for free educational and personal use.

“Music itself, it’s part of your identity,” says Hershey. “Whether you think of it or not, you have a culture, and you have a cultural identity.”

Stitt and Hershey developed the idea for the project while Stitt was traveling through Europe, studying folk music for graduate school. Though they enjoyed traveling, they wanted their journeys to, as Hershey says, “have some sort of purpose.”

“We believe that music is more than just entertainment,” they write. “That music didn’t just entertain you; it helped shape who you are.”

Stitt will be providing the ethnomusicologist backbone for the project while Martin will be the driving force behind the short films. Hershey, in addition to photography, will handle communications and fiddle playing.

The trio currently has a Kickstarter page and hopes to raise $10,000 by Friday. The money will be used to cover living, travel, translation and equipment expenses. If their campaign fails, however, Hershey and Stitt will try to fund the project out of their own pockets.