In July 2016, award-winning Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung led a two-week workshop in Siem Reap, aiming to spark new creativity in young composers from Cambodia and the wider Mekong region.
“I don’t see how a country can move forward without creativity." - Chinary Ung
Chinary and Cambodian Living Arts believe that the next step for the the development of the arts, and of music particularly, is , is to generate more opportunities for artists to create.
In Chinary’s words, “this is the era where investing in 20-30 people, producing 200-300 pieces, could fuel even greater and more powerful creativity for the next generation.” The work needs to happen in Cambodia, building from the traditional practices and forms, it’s not about “changing culture, it’s about transforming and expanding tradition. This is truly living arts.”
For that reason, going full circle, Chinary decided to return to Cambodia, to work with the artists of Cambodian Living Arts and others, to launch a workshop to develop new composers and give them performance opportunities to engage new audiences. The root of everything was in traditional Cambodian forms, and the stories they tell, but Chinary and some of his world-class peers accompanied them through a training program to equip the fledgling composers and advanced artists, with techniques and approaches to inspire and create new works.
Nirmita: A workshop for new composers
This training program is called the Nirmita Composers Institute and the vision is that it will serve the priority needs of this generation of musicians. From the start, this project will be a regional endeavor, engaging partners from Laos and Myanmar in the first year. Over the next five years, the institute will engage new composers from throughout the Greater-Mekong region.
The first Nirmita Composers workshop took place in July 2016, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is home to many rare and ancient forms of music, and provides a meaningful cultural space in which to develop original works from a new generation of Cambodian artists. It will involved 10 emerging composers and 6 traditional musicians from Cambodia, working with two composers and a mentor from Laos and two composers and a mentor from Myanmar. The group was supported by a world-class faculty of composers and performers from 8 countries around Asia and the USA, led by Chinary Ung.
“I see Cambodia is full of gold. Underneath the melodies and the beautiful Apsaras, there are forms like the Chapei; its rhythm is the heart and the pulse of people.”
The two-week workshop included a varied program of technical skills sessions, e.g. on notation, creative sessions, rehearsals and readings. There was a public performances during the workshop by the faculty, and the students recorded their pieces at the end of the session so their creations can be distributed and archived.
This pilot workshop provided a platform for a new era of creativity in Cambodian music. Crucially, it built from the existing musical traditions, using them as the basis for creating the vocabulary and tools from which to create something new. This also meant that workshop was be accessible, and even targeting, some of Cambodia’s most talented, but perhaps overlooked musicians. This approach both generated something contemporary to Cambodia, and retained that thread to the past that Arn and Cambodian Living Arts worked so hard to protect.