In 1994, young Scot Stafford, was awarded special honors from the University of Chicago Music and Composition Theory Department. His honors thesis developed group theory to analyze traditional Balinese polyrhythm, drawing new parallels with Western Harmony. Stafford, a San Rafael resident, most recently composed music and produced additional recordings for Pixar's critically acclaimed 2008 "Presto." At the time of his graduation, he had no idea his thesis would lead him down the path to helping rescue and preserve the Cambodian musical legacy. The story of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, graphically depicted in the poignant portrayal in the book and 1984 film, "The Killing Fields," not only left an estimated 1.7 million dead, but nearly decimated the Cambodian musical legacy of thousands of years by systematically eliminating the music teachers who could pass on the country's musical heritage.

Stafford, on a family trip to the area, traveled to Siem Reap City. There, he heard a performance of the moribund music played from an ancient instrument he had seen carved in bas relief on the walls of Bayon, one of the main temples of Angkor Wat. The instrument is called the Kse Diev, meaning one string. You pluck harmonics on it, moving it on and off one's chest. Some of the last generation of surviving players were nearly all wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. Stafford's fascination with the music, along with his training, impelled him to quench his curiosity as to the music's current status, leading him to the discovery of the fragile nature of its existence. He quickly found that precious little of it had ever been recorded. Stafford raised funds to found Studio CLA (Cambodia Living Arts), a nonprofit ethnographic audio visual production studio with the goal of archiving Cambodia's endangered musical traditions, training local engineers in audio and visual production arts, and providing a laboratory for new creative and collaborative works.

CLA has now has four self-produced CD's for sale in Cambodia. The recent underground documentary, "Sleepwalking through the Mekong," is based on a Los Angeles and Long Beach band's pilgrimage to Cambodia to record in Stafford's studio and to collaborate with traditional CLA artists. Stafford has plenty of in-country support for the collaborative project. Most noteworthy are Arn Chorn-Pond and Sophy Him, whom he met in February 2002, during his first trip to Cambodia. Arn Chorn, by playing revolutionary songs on the flute, survived the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime that turned him into a child soldier. Today, he is an internationally recognized human rights leader, a recipient among other honors, of the Anne Frank Memorial Award and is the subject of the award winning documentary: "The Flute Player."

Sophy Him, a composer, is a professor of music and fine arts at the Royal Academy of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Stafford, in support of Him's work, has been part of the creative team supplying additional music and direction for "Where Elephants Weep," the first-known contemporary Cambodian rock opera with a mission to stir young Cambodians to honor their heritage within the context of the changing global society and to inspire them to learn more about Cambodia's performing living arts. The opera had its world premiere in Cambodia this year.

Last but not least from Cambodian Living Arts comes this appeal to raise money for the schooling of one of their best students, Srey Peu, who is in danger of not completing her studies after her sponsor pulled out. Read about Srey Peu, one of the most promising students in the CLA stable here and their efforts to raise $3,500.