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Bun LoeungFrom the early age of five, it was clear that the founder of Light From Heaven, Bun Loeung, was born to be a musician. The front of his family’s home in western Cambodia was rented out as a barbershop and the barber happened to have a tro sau (a traditional Cambodian bowed –string instrument). When the barber would step out, he would ask Loeung to watch the shop for him. Being drawn to music, Loeung would take the tro down from the wall and play it. It did not take long before some older musicians in town who stopped to listen to this talented boy were convinced he had been a musician in a previous life.

Tragically, Loeung was orphaned at the age of 14, which is when he became a full-time professional musician in Battambang, Cambodia. He spent the next 25 years touring with a Cambodian theatre company. After escaping the Khmer Rouge in 1979, he taught music in a refugee camp in Thailand until he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1982. He spent his first few years in Minnesota playing with a group of Cambodian musicians in restaurants and at traditional Cambodian functions.

Recognized as one of the leading Cambodian musicians in the U.S., Loeung played and taught Cambodian music nationwide. He has performed in every conceivable venue – from the streets of Battambang, opium dens, directing the National Theatre, to performing with the Minnesota Orchestra. His recording "Cambodian Music in Minnesota" was selecting by the Library of Congress as one of the best recordings of American Folk life. He was awarded two NEA Folk-Arts Program grants and received the Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in Music Award. In 2006 he was awarded a Bush Folk Art Fellowship which enabled him to found a school of traditional Cambodian music in St Paul. Bun Loeung passed away in May, 2007 and is sorely missed by his students and fellow musicians.

portrait of Bun Loeung

Jane LanctotTrained in western classical music, Jane Lanctot became interested in Cambodian music in the late 1980s and has been performing with Light From Heaven since 1989. Her formal training is primarily in early keyboards and with Light From Heaven she plays both the tro u (a two-string viola with a coconut body) and the khong thom (gong-circle). In 1992, Jane accompanied Loeung on his first trip back to Cambodia where she studied music at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Phnom Penh.

Jane has the distinction of being the greatest female tro-playing electrical engineer in the whole wide world.

"Prove I ain't!"

portrait of Jane Lanctot

Thoeun MoenHad someone told Thoeun Moen when he was a boy growing up in Prey Veng province, Cambodia that one day he would love and play traditional Cambodian music, he may not have believed it. In fact, growing up Thoeun almost exclusively listened to Cambodian pop music and thought traditional music was "for old people".

Though no one in his family was musically inclined, his four uncles used to spend hours in the family's guest house trying to play pop music with the instruments Thoeun's father bought for them. Drawn to the music, Thoeun would lurk around the guest house only to be kicked out repeatedly because "no kids were allowed in the practice area". He vowed to himself that some day he would own his own drums. Arriving in America in 1980 he did just that, he bought a drum set.

Six years later Thoeun met and married his wife Sarin, Bun Loeung's daughter. Loeung is the one who turned Thoeun's ear to traditional Cambodian music, convincing him of the importance of keeping it alive. But what really won him over was the day he sat and listened to the group play at his cousin's wedding. Invited to play with the group, he loved it and and has been playing the Cambodian drums with the group ever since.

portrait of Thoeun Moeun

Dick Hensold Dick Hensold has played and performed on the Northumbrian Smallpipes (a form of bagpipe) and recorder all over the world. He is a featured soloist in period instrument ensembles, British Isles groups and numerous recordings. Also trained in western classical music, Hensold became fascinated by Cambodian music when he first heard Loeung playing at a restaurant in 1982. In addition to the Northumbrian Smallpipes and the recorder, Dick plays the string bass and beyaw (a Cambodian double-reed instrument used in weddings) with Light From Heaven.

Dick is a recipient of the prestigious 2006 Bush Foundation Folk Art Fellowship for his work performing and composing British Isles music.

portrait of Dick Hensold
All photos by Walter Albertson
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