JUSTIN Bieber’s Beauty And A Beat went viral hours after its music video was released. Ask any teenage girl and she’d have lots to say (or scream) about the single.

On the contrary, if you were to ask the same girl about gamelan, she’d probably take a few seconds to think before telling you: “It sounds familiar lah but I can’t remember where I’ve heard of it.”

Out of curiosity, I asked a few of my college mates and most of them guessed that gamelan was either a type of food, dance, computer game or a new rock band. And they were all wrong.

Do bear in mind that these teenagers have, in fact, learnt about gamelan in our secondary school History syllabus. (To be precise, it was in the later chapters of the Form One syllabus. #JustSayin’)

Sadly, gamelan, like many forms of traditional music, has faded into the shadows of modern music. Malaysia’s younger generation is only being exposed to them at formal school occasions and other cultural functions – that is if they actually attend them. That’s something that Rhythm in Bronze hopes to change.

One of the Bites of Delights casts playing the Gong.

Rhythm in Bronze is a contemporary gamelan ensemble that has taken the traditional art to a whole new level. The 15-year-old ensemble holds quite an impressive resume, having collaborated with numerous international musicians and even winning several BOH Cameronian awards.

“We try to develop new repertoire and compositions with the gamelan with modern twists. The traditional gamelan is beautiful enough but after three songs, it might sound the same to the younger generation,” said Rhythm in Bronze artistic director Jillian Ooi, 40.

As part of their efforts to promote gamelan to the youth, they are currently collaborating with Jumping Jellybeans to present Bites Of Delights, a theatrical production that tells “twirly whirly tales from the Spice Trail”.

Executive Producer Sharmini Ratnasingam, 47, shares that the Bites Of Delights ensemble consists of 27 kids aged 8-18 who were selected from auditions held in March.

Executive producer, Sharmini Ratnasingam.

The kids will not only act, but also sing, dance and even play the gamelan. Ooi says her teaching experience with the children thus far has been nothing but enlightening. “I didn’t know that children could teach us not to have fears. They are so open to learning new things!”

Bites Of Delight will be staged in November, coinciding with Universal Children’s Day (Nov 20).
Ultimately, Bites Of Delights is meant to provide a platform for kids to be able to dabble in performing arts.

“We want to show them what it’s like to be involved in theatre,” Sharmini says. “We’ve got the best professionals working behind the scenes, but on stage, all you will see are the kids.”

A young performer having fun at rehearsals.

Director Ghafir Akbar, 31, is one of the many professionals who joined the production team, and he has been working hard to train the children.

The director takes his job seriously, but he also tries to keep the process fun. During a rehearsal attended by the BRATs, he reminded them: “It’s important for you to have fun. If you don’t, then we won’t have fun watching you!”

The kids have been rehearsing for about five months, and Ghafir says he did not expect to grow as attached to the cast as he is now.

Among the 27 vibrant youngsters are sisters, Nazierah Mat Amin, 16 and Nurjennah Mat Amin, 12.
“The cool thing about this production is that they always let us try different things,” says Nazierah, who has acted in several school productions before. “My father was in a band many hears ago so he’s very excited to see us both involved in this.”

Jennah playing the Kenong.

When asked about the concept of the play, cast member Stefan Othman Andersen, 16, cheekily says that they are keeping it all a secret to heighten the anticipation. All he says is: “It’s amazing!”

Showing from Nov 15 to 23 at the Temple of Fine Arts, Kuala Lumpur, Bites Of Delights will definitely be a treat for the whole family; and Rhythm in Bronze does not intend to stop there. “We plan to organise these shows every two years,” says Sharmini.

They also hope the project will help Rhythm in Bronze achieve their goal of giving a new voice to gamelan. “We want to give it a contemporary touch to make it relevant for the younger generation,” Ooi adds. With their efforts, the gamelan will certainly find its place in the modern music scene in no time.

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