Dr. Him Sophy – Our exclusive lecturer

Born into a musical family in Prey Veng, Cambodia, the essence of musical talent courses through Dr. Him’s veins. Today, he is a successful professor and music composers, well-known in Cambodia and beyond. Since summer 2023, Heritage Line started to cooperate with Dr. Him Sophy as expert lecture for the lower Mekong cruises in Vietnam and Cambodia. Over these months, he has become a part of our extended Heritage Line family. He joins us once a week aboard the ships moored in Phnom Penh, to perform a captivating and personal lecture about his life and experiences made over the past decades that fascinated every of our guests. Heritage Line wanted to know more about this charismatic man, who has more than one story to tell.

Tell us more about your childhood

When I was a child, learning was my hobby, even with different subjects, because I wanted to excel in every field of study. Among them, music captivated me deeply, leading me to begin piano lessons with French teachers in 1972. However, my childhood was abruptly disrupted by the tragic Khmer Rouge war and regime that ravaged the country from 1975 onwards. Therefore, my childhood memory was overshadowed, and my family was forced to relocate within Cambodia until 1979, we could return to Phnom Penh.

Did the transition pose an obstacle to your dream?

During the relocation, I encountered numerous difficulties, including navigating through combat zones while escaping to safer areas. Access to education became nearly impossible, as schools were scarce and food shortages plagued our village. Moreover, my family faced constant scrutiny by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Even when I was fortunate enough to attend the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, pursuing my passion for piano, the threat of violence remained ever-present. I vividly remember when Khmer Rouge soldiers launched rockets at Phnom Penh, forcing me to leap for cover to escape from the danger. Living under the oppressive regime of the Khmer Rouge felt like a sentence of slavery, with our very survival hanging by a thread. Days passed in a haze of hunger, fear, and backbreaking labor, never knowing when we might be targeted for execution. With all these hardships, I clung to a glimmer of hope, reassuring myself that this suffering would one day end. Each day was a test of resilience as I anxiously awaited the downfall of the dictatorship, yearning for the promise of a brighter future.

So, after enduring four long years under the dictatorship, the dawn of freedom finally arrived – and with it, the opportunity to reunite with your passion. Tell us more about this.

In 1979, when the Vietnamese army freed the country and established new order, I returned to Phnom Penh and resumed my piano studies, dedicating myself to composing numerous songs even before formally learning the art of composition. In 1985, I was granted scholarships to study at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, embarking on a journey that spanned 14 years until I completed my PhD. I know it was a long period, but it was worth it. Subsequently, I received a grant from the Asian Cultural Council in New York. I took the opportunity to compose numerous significant musical works and perform in various countries across the globe. Indeed, one could say I am a survivor, but it was through unwavering determination and the unwavering support of my family and teachers that I persevered. Throughout my trials, I remained steadfast in my commitment to furthering my education and creating meaningful compositions that contribute to the pursuit of peace in our world.

Heritage Line is grateful to have you as a lecturer on our cruises. Could you take us back to day 1 and share how you joined our team, and what are your thoughts on the job so far?

I was initially invited by Cambodian Living Arts to engage with esteemed individuals from abroad, where I shared my personal experiences and showcased my musical creations. It was during these interactions that Mr. Voant, the cruise director of the ship Heritage Line The Jahan, approached me at my school and proposed the idea of becoming a lecturer on Heritage Line cruises. I am truly honored and excited to take on this role because I am a living testament to the trials endured during the civil war, genocidal regime, and post-genocidal era, all while continuing to create numerous musical works. I believe that through my lectures on Heritage Line cruises, I have the opportunity to share my unique perspective and experiences with people from all corners of the globe, enriching their understanding and appreciation of Cambodian culture and history.

What are some of the most memorable moments you had while lecturing on Heritage Line cruises?

I could spend hours recounting the wonderful memories I’ve had on the ships. There are countless moments tied to my lectures aboard the ships, such as guests asking about my music, my creative process, and seeking inspiration from my personal experiences for their own endeavors. Many have also expressed curiosity about my current pursuits and projects. Each interaction has been incredibly rewarding and has extended my appreciation for the opportunity to share my journey and music with others aboard Heritage Line cruises.

Despite the hardships he endured during his youth, Dr. Him drew motivation from his passion for music to persevere. Through his compositions, he pays tribute to the victims of Cambodia’s dark period, particularly in his renowned piece “Memory from Darkness,” which is played daily at the Killing Field Museum tour in Phnom Penh. Not only does Dr. Him honor the memory of those who perished, but he also addresses contemporary social issues through his music. In his song “Where Elephants Weep,” he confronts gender inequality in Cambodian society, reflecting the desire for freedom and the rejection of outdated traditions and familial dictations.

More stories about Heritage Line and its passionate people: Get to know another beacon that makes a Heritage Line cruise unique. Our captain, Mr Chinh is the soul of one of our Mekong cruises Jayavarman: