Drum - skor yeam ស្គរយាម

Update : March 27,  2021


The skor yeam of Wat Reach Bo (Siem Reap) in 2006. The skin is decorated with a painted lotus flower.
The skor yeam of Wat Reach Bo (Siem Reap) in 2006. The skin is decorated with a painted lotus flower.

Skor yeam ស្គរយាម is a large barrel drum, sometimes cylindrical, more rarely conical. It is monoxyle (made from a single piece of wood), but one also encounters, albeit rarely, examples made from wine or Cognac type barrels, recycled under the French Protectorate. The skor yeam is also called skor peiry or skor chey because it was once used to beat command signals during war, to gather troops or to signal danger. Such drums were already used in the Angkorian period in a martial context.

Today the skor yeam is mainly found in Buddhist monasteries. It is beaten twice a day to invite the monks to prayer and religious services. Today, the skor yeam is carved from the trunk of large trees still available such as chankiri ចាន់គីរី and koki គគីរ. In the past, in abundance, other species were used: chreh, neang nung នាងនួន, tnout, khnor ខ្នុរ, coconut daemdaung ដើមដូង (after the Revolution). The size of the drums varies considerably; it is related to the financial means of the monastery, to the desiderata of its venerable or to the availability of pieces of wood ... The barrel can be raw, varnished, painted, decorated with stencil patterns, carved with floral decorations, especially lotus flowers. 

The large membranes are made of cow or buffalo skin. They are fixed with one or two rows of bamboo or metal nails. To our knowledge, the most beautiful drums in Cambodia are found at Wat Reach Bo in Siem Reap.

Depending on the case, the skor yeam are placed on a support at man height or suspended. Inside some of the old drums, there are pull springs that provide a certain resonance. This practice disappears with the new generation of factors.

 


Playing technique

In monasteries, the skor yeam is usually struck twice a day by young monks with a single wooden stick, a solid bamboo stick (curved rhizome) or a mallet. If this type of drum is very old, the struck sequence is not less; it is even very stable, from one monastery to another. It is built on three similar strokes repeated according to a tempo specific to each monastery, even each monk, and finished by a conclusive stroke. It is one of the oldest drumming styles to be heard in this part of the world.

 

This drum was commissioned and installed by Venerable Pin Sem in 2016. One will notice the typical decorations of the Angkor Wat period.



Skor yeam of Wat Reach Bo (Siem Reap) from 2008 to 2015

The Venerable Pin Sem, who leads the Wat Reach Bo, never ceases to bring towards perfection everything he undertakes. We were able to follow the evolution of the skor yeam of this monastery between 2008 and 2017. We will particularly notice the Hennessy drum, dating from the French Protectorate and the perfection of execution of the drum of 2016 (two identical instruments were made).



Skor yeam Hennessy of Vat Svay (Siem Reap)

Like at Wat Reach Bo, Wat Svay had a drum made with an alcohol barrel. When we discovered it in 2016, it was in a sad state, which allowed us to photograph the interior.



Drums from other monasteries


Making

The skor yeam are entirely handmade because there are no wood lathes in Cambodia large enough to turn them. The makers use axes and adzes to roughen the outside and drill them. The buffalo hides are stretched on the ground or on frames and dried in the sun. The hides are nailed to the drum with bamboo or metal nails.


Example of modern use (2021)

On March 23, 2021, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen ហ៊ុន សែន, relayed by the Ministry of Cults and Religions, invited all monasteries in the country to strike all the instruments they have five times a day (5am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, and 8pm), i.e., drums, gongs, and bells, in order to call the people to be vigilant against the COVID 19 pandemic until the end of the epidemic wave that was triggered in Phnom Penh on Feb. 20. This campaign aims to keep Cambodians vigilant to strictly follow the "3 dos and don'ts": wear a mask, wash hands, maintain a physical distance of 1.5 meters, avoid enclosed spaces, crowded places, do not touch or kiss. We report this fact on this site because such occasions are (fortunately) rare and remind everyone of the primary purpose of these sound tools. 

Alongside the mainstream media and social networks, the ancestral instruments of remote communication are making a comeback. If Buddhists are used to hearing them on a daily basis when they call the monks to prayer or for meals, they are not used to hearing them simultaneously.

Here at Wat Reach Bo in Siem Reap, four monks strike, in three traditional sessions, two large bronze rokeang រគាំង bells and two skor yeam drums under the vocal commands of a fifth monk since the two pairs of instruments are some 60 meters apart.