Bringing a new touch to Gamelan music
15 Aug 2014
Have you ever heard the mesmerising sounds of the “Gamelan” and would you ever associate Bruno Mars with Gamelan music?
Gamelan is a traditional instrumental ensemble which originated from Indonesia. It is made up of many bronze percussion instruments such as gongs, xylophones and metallophones.
This year, Siglap Secondary School, Yishun Primary School and MacPherson Primary School came together to organise a Gamelan Fiesta, held on 4 June at the Republic Polytechnic. This fiesta was a way to encourage greater collaboration among schools by playing together as a large combined schools ensemble. Other participating schools included Haig Girls’ School, Hougang Secondary School and NUS High School of Math and Science. There was a total of 270 cast and crew which included 20 teachers and six instructors.
The fiesta also showed how gamelan music has evolved over the years, especially in Singapore. The audience was given an introduction to the origin of Gamelan music, current trends as well as emerging new trends. With efforts to promote innovation in Gamelan music, special arrangements were made to incorporate the use of western musical instruments such as the double bass, cello and violin. Students were also encouraged to explore new genres and songs.
The 800-strong audience was entertained with dynamic gamelan music performances, and impressed with the beautiful sets and costumes. They were also pleasantly surprised by dancers who interacted with members of the audience as they performed. Many in the audience also swayed and sang along to new renditions of familiar tunes such as “Cindai” (Siti Nurhaliza), “What Makes You Beautiful” (One Direction), “Marry You” (Bruno Mars). The students of Siglap Secondary School even performed an original student composition, titled “Impian”, meaning Aspiration.
A Secondary Three student from Siglap Secondary School who was part of the team which composed “Impian”, Tan Xiang Zhao, said it was challenging to compose a song played by many types of Gamelan instruments. However, the team stayed back after school to practise it daily and she had also gained valuable experiences in composing Gamelan songs.
Students’ self-confidence and skills were also built up through this public showcase of talents. Muhd Rizky Adiryhan Bin Roni Readuan, a Primary Two student from MacPherson Primary School, was the youngest performer of the night and caught the attention of the audience. Rizky shared that he was happy and proud to be able to represent his school.
When asked if he faced any difficulties in performing, Rizky answered that there were none as the instructors were always encouraging and helped him to catch up with the music pieces. He also shared with a grin that, “As I am small built, my teacher told me that my actions needed to be big so that the audience could see me.” Rizky trained hard for his solo performance during the rendition of “Rampak Singapura” and was proud of his achievements. He said, “Learning the song in two weeks before the fiesta was a challenge but I did it!”
Amanda Ng from Siglap Secondary School, also shared that being a female Gamelan performer, one has to be elegant and graceful when playing the instruments. It was tough for her initially as she was not used to the sitting position. After months of training, she has managed to overcome the difficulties and had learnt values on adaptability and perseverance along the way. Amanda shared that she has never regretted her decision to learn Gamelan and she had made many Malay friends and learnt so much knowledge about the Malay culture and practices.
Another performer, Mohamad Afiq Bin Azman from Siglap Secondary School, shared that joining the Gamelan Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) in his school has benefited him in many ways. Afiq said, “I have learnt to be attentive and alert because every player must listen to each other so as to ensure that the music is synchronized and in tune. I have inculcated the values of discipline and respect. Being the vice-chairman of the CCA, I have developed my leadership skills and together with the chairman, we have led our peers in 2013 for Gamelan Ensemble.” Afiq was also happy that he had made many friends through his CCA, not only from his school but also with students from other school.
Mr Tharmendra Jeyaraman, director of Gamelan Fiesta and a Head Of Department at Siglap Secondary School, said it was a challenge to organise the fiesta as he had to see to the coordination among the various schools, especially for the rehearsal schedules, logistics and programme. Mr Tharmendra also shared that preparations for the fiesta started as early as November last year but only intensified after the Singapore Youth Festival presentations in April. It was also a big challenge to find time for practice sessions as teachers and students had to take a break for the semester examinations too. But Mr Tharmendra was satisfied with the final outcome of the fiesta, adding that it had brought him great joy!