Should you decide one Saturday morn, “O! What things might I discover at Eastman? I shall make passage to this place!” you might find yourself witness to a voluptuous rehearsal of a fantastical music form called Gamelan. Being a curious sort, I swore to find out more of this Gamelan, for not many do know.

My escorts, both of them ladies of the River Campus, freshman Nawa Lanzilotti and sophomore Nora Peters, have been involved with the program for only a short amount of time, but their fervor and knowledge of the Balinese music is impressive, even intimidating at times. I entered Nora’s car bound for Eastman.

A nervous silence dominated the scene for a long moment, and then I removed my pipe – which bears the likeness of Dr. Watson – and ignited some fine mellowed burleys as I opened dialogue, “What is the extent of your knowledge on Gamelan?” Nawa looked at Nora inquisitively; Nora paused and then nodded to Nawa who, understanding the signal, reached for the radio to turn on some warm acid jazz.

The main points of the ensuing conversation lead me to understand many of the curious facts about Gamelan. The word gamelan refers collectively to a set of musical instruments and to the people who play them. It is a traditional Balinese music form which is performed and made distinct by most individual municipalities in Bali. The music has no written verse, but rather is passed through the generations orally; it draws spiritual meaning from the melting pot of Balinese culture, and it’s damn fun! Gamelan cultivates its own style of music and the audience is given the opportunity to hear the music and witness the collective efforts of the group.

“It’s really fun because anyone can do it!” Nora said, though she made sure to explain that the program has beginners and it also has masters. Members include UR and Eastman students, faculty and staff, as well as many members of the Rochester community.

The man who teaches it, Nyoman, is originally from Bali. He lives in Washington, D.C. now and makes weekly trips to Rochester to teach these eager students. Yet as Nawa told me,”Gamelan is so infused with the culture and not just a bunch of Westerners studying the form of music.”

And the group interests themselves in adopting other cultural activities of Bali; each month, they have a festive potluck called a “selamatan.” It provides a nice opportunity for the group to discuss their art and get to know each other more – in Balinese society, all gatherings are viewed as both important and sacred.

The conversation ends as our vehicle pulls into a garage somewhere in downtown Rochester. We exit the car and exchange glances of raised eyebrows and mild frowns – the kind of glance that signals nervous contentment. We walked through the bitter cold of Rochester’s January. At this point in the exploration, all I had left to do was experience this music.

The Gamelan room in Eastman is a wild thing of rare and exciting instruments – my favorite being a golden turtle. A gamelan is made up largely of percussion instruments such as metallophones, gongs and drums, but can also include flutes, string instruments and voices. The students filed in and mounted their favored device – they didn’t stay too comfortable, for this music requires that the musicians play them all! The class is a familiar sort and they all hold immense enthusiasm for what they do. Nyoman then called the class to order, and they began. O, what a tasty thing it was! Exotic and rich with subtleties making an awesome sound, which at first is overwhelming and may be misunderstood by the casual listener, this stuff is a dense, wild and rewarding musical experience.

Let me tell you, dear readers, Gamelan is radically different from anything here in both the nature of the sounds and how these sounds are assembled together. To hear Nyoman relay the music orally is an experience not to be missed! I am assured that the experience offered in performance is vastly different than what I was shown in this rehearsal, for all that I witnessed was the perfecting of a repetitive verse in a song. The polished work will contain multiple movements and ornate dancing that resonates beautifully with the music, or so the videos on YouTube suggest.

If this sounds like something that would interest you, check it out! The first thing one will discover in investigating this group is how open it is, as it contains both beginners and more skilled members. Also, be on the lookout for upcoming shows. I am told that there will be a few at Eastman throughout spring with a large performance on April 29. More information can be found at http://esm.rochester.edu/gamelan/.

Eles is a member of the class of 2011.



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