The music and dance that developed in the Malay palace setting as an art or classical tradition is called the joget gamelan. The dance is accompanied by music played on the Malay Gamelan [Gamelan Melayu].
In the 18th century (and perhaps earlier) a dance tradition and its gamelan music was known to exist at the Riau-Lingga palace. In 1811 the royal family of Riau-Lingga and the family of a high court official (Bendahara) of Pahang celebrated a royal marriage. In this celebration the instruments of the gamelan and the dancers moved from the Riau-Lingga palace to reside in the Pahang court. By the middle of the 19th century the gamelan music and dance developed at the Pahang court and became known as the gamelan Pahang or the joget Pahang. Several gamelan instruments still exist from this period and are exhibited in the Palace Museum in the town of Pekan in Pahang.
Early in the 20th century the Pahang gamelan and the group of dancers at the palace were moved to the Trengganu court to celebrate another Royal marriage. In 1913 the Sultan Sulaiman from Trengganu married Tengku Mariam, the daughter of the Sultan of Pahang. The Tengku Ampuan Mariam was experienced as a dancer in the joget gamelan tradition and for her wedding the orchestra, musicians and dancers moved to the Maziah Palace in Kuala Trengganu.
From 1913 to 1942 both the king and queen of Trengganu were active in developing and patronizing the joget gamelan. It was during this time that certain aspects of the music and dance differentiated the Malay style from the original Javanese model of the 19th century. These aspects included the dance movements, costume, the change in the tuning system for the musical instruments, the instrumentation of the orchestra, and also the use of melodies not originating from the Javanese tradition. As a result of these changes the musical tradition changed its name to 'gamelan Melayu' and 'joget gamelan'. These terms are used to this day to refer to a music and dance tradition that developed in the context of the Trengganu court. In former times, under the patronage of the king, the joget gamelan functioned as entertainment for the nobility during the crowning of a new sultan, for birthdays, engagements, marriages and to welcome and honor official state visitors.
Although performances of this form stopped during World War II, it was revived in the 1960s and developed further, but outside of the palace and without the patronage of the Sultan. Today the joget gamelan is performed for a number of purposes including entertainment for the general public, during official state celebrations, and for new dance dramas and compositions.
The Malay gamelan along with new and old compositions may be heard today at most institutions of higher learning in the country including the National Arts Academy in Kuala Lumpur. In earlier times the repertory of the joget gamelan consisted of about 50 musical pieces and dances, but today much of the old repertory has been lost and forgotten. All the dances are entirely interpretive in that the dance movements themselves explain the activity or intention in a given story. The stories, then, based on the Panji tales, epics and folk stories, are presented through dance with music.
Each dance has its own specifically named musical piece. For example, the dance called Timang Burung (which portrays a princess who catches a bird and her ladies-in-waiting who dance imitating the movements of the bird) is accompanied by the piece that is also called Timang Burung. A given dance drama may be created based on a certain story using several different dances and tunes from the repertory. In this tradition women are the dancers while men are the musicians in the orchestra. All performers are trained for many years before they are considered able to perform well. Today composers also compose tunes and new compositions for the Malay gamelan in the context of dance dramas, instrumental pieces and vocal pieces with instrumental accompaniment.