Cambodia’s Golden Age of Soul, Jazz, and Rock and Roll from 1959 to 1975 was one of the world’s profound musical renaissances. Yet it almost disappeared before we could hear it.
Though most of the musicians of that exceptional generation were killed at the hands of a murderous dictatorship, their music lives on because of the strength of the Cambodian people in the face of genocide.
Garuda's Song is a musical composition that aims to share the remarkable story of Cambodia's rich and resilient musical culture with the world.
The composition ties together traditional melodies, classics from Cambodia's Golden Age, and classical instruments and sensibility.
Garuda’s Song highlights music before, during, and after the Khmer Rouge, a brutal regime, which between 1975 and 1979 killed nearly 3 million Cambodians, including most of the country’s musicians.
Garuda - a mythical bird in Cambodian lore - symbolizes rebirth in ancient and modern life. Like Garuda, music is an enduring emblem of virtue, hope, and revival for Cambodians.
Help support composers Alex Biniaz-Harris and Ambrose Soehn to preserve the memory and legacy of those who lost their lives in the pursuit of creative freedom during the genocide using the universal power of music.
We are working hard to make Garuda's Song a reality on the heels of the recent and tragic display of religious and ethnic intolerance in Pittsburgh. As a global community there is much work to be done, and we sincerely hope to tell the world a story that might inspire even a single person that it is with love, not hate, that we can all contribute towards a brighter future.
We have spent the last ten months researching Cambodian music, history, and culture to write Garuda’s Song - a set of four-hand piano pieces based on traditional and popular melodies featuring electric guitar, voice, and other Cambodian instruments.
In collaboration with Cambodian Vintage Music Archive director Oum Rotanak, we will perform the composition with renowned musicians and survivors Hong Samley and So Savoeun.
Our primary goal is to hold two performances of Garuda’s Song with them in Cambodia early next year: one in Phnom Penh, and one in Siem Reap.
In addition, we will create and distribute an audio recording of Garuda’s Song and a documentary short film with Cambodian filmmaker Sa Fatily that features behind-the-scenes footage of the compositional process, live shots of the performances in Cambodia, and interviews and reflections from Cambodian survivors and musicians.
Excerpts from Garuda's Song featuring melodies from our research
We hope the Garuda’s Song project - through the media of performance, audio, and film - will honor the victims and survivors of the Cambodian genocide and celebrate the nation’s wealth of diverse musical traditions and talent.
WHY WE’RE DOING THIS
Our mission is to use the power of music to tell meaningful stories about social challenges faced in today’s world in order to inspire resilience and change for a better future.
Our connection to genocide is personal. Alex's grandmother, Celina Biniaz, is the youngest-living survivor on Schindler’s List. Our gratitude for life pushes us to use our musical voices to spread awareness of the evils of genocide and the resilience of the human spirit.
We became deeply connected with Cambodian music and culture after listening to survivor testimony, reading books, and watching documentaries on the genocide earlier this year. Compelled by these resources, we began reaching out to experts on the topic to better understand the nation's complicated history and how we could reinterpret and celebrate the musicians’ beautiful, powerful creations.
At the same time, we couldn’t understand why we had never heard this story before. The genocide is not taught in most American schools and is therefore barely known across the United States.
On a global scale, we wish to educate a wider audience about the strength of the Cambodian people and the greater implications of baseless racial and ethnic intolerance.
Alex and Ambrose met as classical piano students at the University of Southern California. We bonded over a mutual interest in music and history and have collaborated on a number of successful, international, and multidisciplinary projects.
As interns of the USC Shoah Foundation, Steven Spielberg’s nonprofit organization that archives over 55,000 video testimonies of survivors from the Holocaust and other genocides, we realized we could use the power of music to retell their stories.
By consulting testimony in the foundation’s archive, we composed a four-hand piano piece - “Melodies of Auschwitz” - based on music performed, listened to, and composed in the Nazi concentration camp. In January 2015, we performed the composition for camp survivors and international dignitaries at the 70th-anniversary commemoration of Auschwitz’s liberation in Krakow, Poland.
Melodies of Auschwitz documentary film about our Holocaust-dedicated piece
Because of our extensive past experience researching, composing, and orchestrating international musical performances, we are confident in our ability to execute on this project responsibly with the funds we raise.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
We have spent countless hours getting the project to this point. From here, however, we need your help to get us to the finish line.
Neither of us has profited nor will profit financially from this endeavor. It has been our mission from day one to honor and raise awareness about the history and culture of Cambodia as best we can, and we will not keep a single dollar in the process.
It is because of generous backers like you that we will be able to make our vision a reality and share this unique story with Cambodia and the world. Your contributions will enable us to follow through on our promises and will be used for the following items.
Our team is a diverse collection of passionate and creative individuals. Assembled from different backgrounds and disciplines, we stand behind a single vision and are dedicated to sharing the story of Garuda's Song with the world.
As tokens of our appreciation, we are offering rewards that vary from your name being read as a Sponsor at the Cambodia performances, advance audio and video of our composition and documentary short, behind-the-scenes photo mementos, and even us being your travel agent to help you get to Cambodia with front-row seats at the performance!
SHARE OUR STORY
If this project speaks to you or to someone you know, please share our story so that we may bring it to life.
Risks and challenges
Ambrose and Alex were responsible for composing and performing a similar musical composition “Melodies of Auschwitz,” and responsibly delivered on our obligations on a tight deadline.
We composed that piece in a few weeks, and were forced to rewrite a version that could be performed on one piano in less than a week.
We are accustomed to working on a short schedule, and we promise to deliver our best work on such a deadline.
We take this responsibility seriously. We sincerely hope to tell the world a story that might educate even one person that it is with love, not hate, that we can all contribute towards a brighter future.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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