The distant echoes of the musical refinement of the ancient Khmer court, where every morning orchestras with crystalline gongs, female choir and female dancers rehearsed music for a coming ceremony.
The 1960's... The Royal Palace, the seat of the Khmer monarchy since the end of the preceding century, then sheltered many musicians and dancers who were the base for the prestige of which these venerable walls were so proud. Every morning as one walked down the boulevard in front of the entrance façade, one could hear fireworks of limpid sonorities: for four hours the pinpeat orchestra with its crystalline gongs joined in the training of the royal dancers or by itself rehearsed music for a coming ceremony.
At that time, there was hardly a month when court rituals did not require the presence –or rather the participation– of palace musicians and almost as often ballerinas whose fame was world-wide in spite of their rare public appearances. Of these bayaderes, as they were then called, the sculptor Rodin, who was able to admire them in France in 1906, said: “It is impossible to see human nature carried to such perfection (...) There are so many who claim to have beauty, but who don't give it. But the king of Cambodia gives it to us. Even the children are great artists. This is absolutely unimaginable!” At that time, they were present at all occasions of pomp and splendour in the palace.
The positions of the musicians were often passed on from father to son. They also maintained the tradition by demanding rigor towards the musical heritage of their ancestors and held in memory, as the tradition was generally oral, a repertoire of more than three hundred compositions. Each one of them was assigned to precise moments of a ritual or definite moments of a choreographed piece.