Orkestra Melayu Singapura (OMS)

Singapore's first Malay orchestra, the Orkestra Melayu Singapura (OMS) was set up by the People's Association (PA) in September 1991. Formed to preserve and promote Malay music in Singapore, the OMS is the only orchestra in Singapore to combine modern and traditional instruments in Malay music performance. The orchestra's repertoire includes original compositions and traditional Malay pieces. It has given concerts such as Malam Rentak Dan Irama, Malam Gurindam Syawal, Dagang Nusantara and Gurindam Melayu Asli.

The first decade

In August 1991, as part of its attempt to preserve and promote Malay music in Singapore, the People's Association began looking for musicians to join the Orkestra Melayu Singapura (OMS). Applicants had to be able to play a brass or woodwind instruments, and once selected they had to attend weekly training at the PA. Following that first audition in 1991, a twenty-three-strong member OMS was formed in September 1991.

Mohd Mokhtar Abdullah, a composer and musician, was its first conductor. The orchestra's repertoire includes original compositions and traditional Malay pieces. The OMS gave its debut performance at the World Trade Centre auditorium on 11 April 1992. That debut led to subsequent concerts played during cultural events and festive occasions, and on occasions the OMS collaborated with other local and regional orchestras.

In April 1994, the Orkestra held the Malam Gurindam Syawal (Night of Syawal Lyric Poetry) in conjunction with the Hari Raya Puasa celebration. The concert had a twenty-one-item programme played by its thirty-piece orchestra. However, the OMS was criticised for not using any traditional Malay instruments in its programme. To this, conductor Mokhtar lamented the difficulty in enticing experienced Malay traditional musicians to join the group. Most of its members were amateur musicians and attended practice sessions on voluntary basis. They consisted of, among others, school students, undergraduates and taxi drivers, from the teens to the late 40s. They were given an allowance for attending training sessions, while the orchestra received only a nominal sum as payment for its performance. In addition, invitations to perform were infrequent. On average, it received about four invitations to perform a year.

In 1996, the OMS adopted a new strategy in its effort to endear the young to asli or traditional music. In its annual concert entitled Gurindam Melayu Asli (Traditional Malay Folk Songs) held in April that year, the Orkestra fused the sounds of traditional and contemporary Western instruments. Their arrangements boasted of traditional instruments such as the gong, and different kinds of drums like ketuk, boning and kenong, and Western instruments such as the violin, clarinet, saxophone, piano and guitar. In addition, two original compositions, Jebat and Persimpangan, premiered at the concert.

In June 1997, it participated in the Festival of Asian Performing Arts. It performed Crossroads, which was a combined effort from musicians from the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir and the PA's Youth Chinese Orchestra. Crossroads was a fusion piece made up of Chinese, Indian and Malay elements, and was conducted by L. Vaidyanathan, one of India's leading composers and conductors. Once again in 2002, L. Vaidyanathan conducted a fusion-piece concert, Sangamam, that combined Indian, Chinese, Malay and Western musical elements.

In February 1999, the OMS, together with the PA's Malay Dance Group, participated in the Cathay Pacific Chinese New Year Parade in Hong Kong. They performed a dance and musical performance called Kampung Celebrations, which told the story of a traditional circumcision ceremony for Malay boys.

Tenth anniversary and beyond
The OMS marked its tenth anniversary in April 2001 with a concert called Dancegema Warisan (Echoes of Heritage) at the Singapore Conference Hall. The programme, led by its conductor Mohd Jais Minsawi, comprised mainly new compositions with a few traditional pieces added in. The concert featured guest artists from Sumatra playing instruments such as talempong, sarunai, bangsi and saluang. 2001 also saw the formation of a specialised wing called the Kombo Orkestra Melayu Singapura. This new offshoot of the OMS focuses on the fusion of modern and traditional Malay music.

In June 2002, the OMS participated in the People's Association Malay Activity Co-ordinating Council (MESRA)'s musical Gentarasa (Chimes of Expressions). The musical was a showcase blending elements of the Malay performing arts. Performing arts groups, such as those for dance and silat, moved to traditional music played and sung live during the show. Gentarasa is now an annual event since that first concert in 2002.

The OMS was also part of a Singapore-Malaysia-Indonesia ensemble called Perahu - Breaking the Waves. This was performed in October 2002 as part of the one-month-long festival that marked the opening of Singapore's Esplanade- Theatres on the Bay.

April 1994 : Malam Gurindam Syawal
April 1996 : Gurindam Melayu Asli
June 1997 : Crossroads
February 1999 : Kampung Celebrations
April 2001 : Dancegema Warisan
June 2002 - : Gentarasa
October 2002 : Perahu - Breaking the Waves
Malam Rentak Dan Irama
Dagang Nusantara

Nureza Ahmad

Er, S. (1997, June 21). Performing arts: Indian maestro for classical pieces. The Straits Times.

Filzah Hadi. (1994, April 18). Show of support for Malay orchestra. The Straits Times, Life, p. 11.

Junaidah Dahlan (1996, April 30). Novel way to introduce young to traditional music. The Straits Times, Life, p. 6

Teo, J. (2001, September 4). Big band, Malay style. The Straits Times.

Malay cultural feast at Arts Fest. ( 2002, May 21). The Straits Times. 

Music: Kombo Orkestra Melayu Singapura. (2001, June 7). The Straits Times, Life! Whats on. 

Horse play heads for HK. (1999, February 15). The Straits Times.

First Malay orchestra hopes to make music with a difference. (1992, January 20). The Straits Times.

Promoting Malay music. (1992, January 16). The Business Times, p.4.

Talent for Malay orchestra. (1991, August 2). The Straits Times

Further Readings
Bianpoe, C. (2002, October 11). Esplanade Theatres on the Bay opens festival. The Jakarta Post, Features.

Tan, S. E. (2002, June 17). Experiment gone very wrong. The Straits Times

People's Association. (2002). MESRA : People's Association Malay Activity Co-ordinating Council. Retrieved on 21 April, 2004, from www.mesra.org.sg/index.html# 

People's Association. (n.d.). Likeskills and lifestyle @ PA. Retrieved on 21 April, 2004, from 

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Heritage and Culture
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Music
Performing arts--Singapore
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