Ngek Chum is one of the few living Khmer music masters worldwide who possesses a vast repertoire and command of multiple instruments across various genres. He is the 2004 recipient of the Bess Lomax Hawes Award, the NEA National Heritage Fellowship conferred upon one artist who has significantly benefited his or her tradition through teaching and preserving important repertoires. Chum has also received honors from The Maryland State Arts Council and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.
Born in Battambang Province, Cambodia, Chum first formally studied Khmer music at the age of ten under his grandfather, Um Hieng. Although Chum’s grandfather did not want him to become a professional musician, his talent and love for music could not be denied. Consequently, Chum’s grandfather set up private apprenticeships for him with the province’s best musicians. At the age of twelve, Chum so impressed his teacher, Master Chou Nit, that he learned the sacred repertoire in the same year. By the time he was eighteen, Chum began to perform professionally, lead ensembles, serve as a provincial musician, and perform throughout Cambodia. In 1974, Chum was selected as his region’s representative for a national music contest and artist residency held at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh.