Trombone virtuoso Alexandre Scarpati – proud owner and director of the Music Art School in Siem Reap – is, among many things, a talented raconteur.
When he settles back on a weekday morning – with a mellow sun streaming through the leaf-dappled windows of a mellow school studio – and riffs about life, it’s obvious he’s a lover: a lover of life and music.
Indeed, it is his school that is his biggest love at the moment, and what he loves most about the school is when his music students show off their new tuneful skills to their parents.
“For me, the best moments with the school are when the students perform in front of their parents when we do the student auditions,” he says.
“To see them happy to show the work they had accomplished, it is wonderful. And it is the main reason I do and continue the school.”
He notes that the Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without,” and he’s intent on passing that message onto young Cambodians, not to mention any one else who professes interest.
Alexandre also stresses the importance of teaching music from the very basics upward.
“For me, learning and playing music is important for self-development. And the better we play, the more we appreciate it, the more we can touch people and share our passion.
“That’s the reason for me for giving good basics. Good knowledge can be only a win-win situation. Our students will have more playing pleasure, people will have more listening pleasure, and it will help the development of music scene in Cambodia. Excellence can bring happiness.”
“That’s why we follow recognised methods, and we plan in the near future to set up diplomas recognised all around the world.”
As a self-described ‘musical mercenary’, Alexandre has gigged far and wide since graduating in classical trombone, music theory, jazz and chamber music in a music conservatory in Montpelier, France. He’s worked in many different styles, from orchestra through to pop bands . Now, as well as owning and running the music school, he also organises musical events for hotels, restaurant and bars and worked with up to six bands including the Hot Club in Phnom Penh – the Why Not Jazz trio in Siem Reap, and the JMC jazz ensemble, also in the Reap.
He adds that his preference for recording is eclectic.
“I love classical, baroque, old and modern jazz, rock, reggae and much other music style,” he says. “For me the most important element is the energy, love and quality you put in when you record. My last recording session was for the album Mango Dream, mixing Khmer music and jazz and it was fantastic.”
Alexandre Scarpati arrived in Cambodia on March 29, 2012, a date he’s precise about because it’s his birthday. He was traveling, taking some time out from his hectic European music commitments.
“I needed to take a little bit of a break, a one-year break, and Cambodia trapped me,” he says. “Each time I thought of leaving, something beautiful happened.”
In August 2013 he bought what was then called the Art School, and year later, in August 2014, he launched the rebranded Music Art School with a special evening performance his new teachers at the Hard Rock Café, which had just opened in Siem Reap.
Alexandre’s music school has thrived, and as well as music its curriculum now includes fine arts, ballet dance and hip hop dance lessons.
It has 70 students, without counting the adult choir, which is a free class every Monday. Music students are taught piano, guitar, ukulele, singing, saxophone, clarinet, flute, bass, drum, trombone, trumpet, choir, batucada and musical awakening, and the students are taught by an international team of musicians including French, Russian and Brazilian tutors.
The school also tunes in with various business and organisations in Siem Reap to help spread the good notes.
“We have many other projects such as Solid’art,” Alexandre says. “With the help of Jaya House RiverPark, we bring free musical education to children from unprivileged backgrounds. We work with association such as Anjali House, Krousar Thmey, and soon with Friends International.”
The school also has an ‘outreach’ plan to hopefully involved participation of non-students in activities such as a free choir.
“We started the free choirs this year, “Alexandre says, “We have 15 choir members at the moment but next week that will increase to 25. My goal is to have 40 members.
“At the moment we sing mainly American songs and we would love to do some Cambodian songs. But this takes time.”
And for music lovers in general, the big news coming out of the school is that a series of performances for the public at large are ready to be rolled out.
“We will have an event December 2nd in Sofitel in Phnom Penh named Musica Felice Open Air Concert,” Alexandra says.
“Its purpose is to support schools which help to develop music and Khmer education for a bright future. Tickets are for sale at Sofitel, La Croisette, and Hops Brewery and Craft Beer Garden
“We also support collaboration between occidental music and Khmer traditional music with projects such as Mango Dream (Youtube: Sro Noss Kher Ka Dekk (trad)/ Mango Dream Project), and we will perform in December in Siem Reap, with the precise date coming soon.
We have also organised a music and art festival on February 16-17 at the Hard Rock Café in Siem Reap, featuring Cambodian and international artists. The festival will be free, and our goal is that all in the community can enjoy it.”