The tranquil halls of a San Jose, California, theatre came alive with the faint echoes of ancient Khmer melodies, a testament to one man’s unwavering dedication to his culture.

At 67, Ieng Sithul, a revered master of Khmer traditional arts, continues his efforts to preserve the Kingdom’s unique culture.

On April 27, as part of the Cambodian Association of America, he performed a classic Yike song, Mac Thung.

Yike theatre, which dates to the Funan era from 100BC to 550AD, is one of Cambodia’s most beloved musical traditions. It incorporates singing and dancing, and uses a mix of modern and traditional instruments.

Sithul shared a behind-the-scenes video of his performance to social media.

“I have a fear that we will lose this precious cultural treasure, so I am doing all I can to ensure it remains alive. Thank you to all of my compatriots for their support,” said the post.

Sithul, whose voice once captivated people’s hearts in Cambodia with his pitch-perfect vocals on traditional songs, has embarked on a noble journey, far from home.

Originally travelling to the US for medical treatment and to visit his children, Sithul's trip took on a new dimension when he was approached to teach Khmer arts to children.

"I believe that an empty life of aimless retirement is no way to live. That is why I am taking the opportunity to help educate local children. The Cambodian Association of America focuses on preserving traditional arts, as well as Khmer morality and virtue,” he said.

His teaching of the children of Cambodians overseas focuses on cultivating a love of Khmer art, culture and literature, rather than training for a career.

“These children, who range from 6 to 16 years old, are being taught more than just the steps of a dance or the lyrics of a song," Sithul explains.

"Their parents are eager for them to learn about Khmer literature and the performing arts, embedding in them the virtues and morals of our unique culture,” he adds.

In an age where digital distractions are rampant, his lessons are a lifeline to a heritage at risk of fading.

Despite his advanced age and recent heart surgery, Sithul's passion for his craft is undiminished.

He spent his first sessions teaching seven songs and various dances, sharing knowledge that transcends generations.

"In Cambodia, I could teach up to 60 students at once. Here, it's more challenging. The kids are busy, less available. But seeing their interest grow in the arts I teach – that keeps me going," he says.

He explains that his goal, regardless of his personal health, is to witness them enjoying and engaging with his lessons, dancing, playing music and occasionally performing.

Sithul's efforts are a cultural beacon for the Cambodian community in America, much like the classical art groups found in other immigrant communities.

His commitment is not about forming professionals but fostering a sense of identity and belonging.

"This isn't just about preserving art; it's about cultivating a new generation that understands and appreciates where they come from," Sithul told The Post.

Together with his wife, Sithul also focuses on strengthening the Khmer language and teaching short educational songs at the Cambodian Association.

The Cambodian community in the US is fortunate to possess a classical art group capable of performing large-scale dances, much like similar American immigrant communities, from China, Vietnam and Thailand, all of which have similar rich artistic traditions.

Despite suffering from a chronic condition that required heart surgery – and with age catching up – Sithul remains willing to assist the Cambodian Association for an hour a day or three hours a week, rather than withdrawing entirely from the art scene.

While the association’s dance group may not attain professional status, Sithul is also involved with the Angkor Dance Troupe, a professional dance ensemble based in California. The members received instruction from teachers at the Kingdom’s Royal University of Fine Arts.

As they prepare for a parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of Cambodians' arrival in the US, Sithul's legacy is clear – he is not just teaching art; he is ensuring the survival of a culture.