Picture this ? an American lawyer, after a long day at trial, decides to spend the remaining hours of her evening practicing an instrument with plans to attend a conservatory in the coming months while keeping up with her law work.
Or, a business owner whose business is thriving practices daily in order to become the best musician he can be, constantly looking for opportunities to share his music with others.
While these situations may not seem plausible, because music is generally independent of daily life for non-musicians in American society, similar situations are customary in Bali. In Bali, an island in the archipelago of Indonesia, gamelan ? Balinese music and the instruments with which that music is made ? is intertwined with everyday life.
“The people who play gamelan are often rice farmers, school teachers or shopkeepers, yet they perfect their craft to as refined an extent as western musicians,” Instructor of Musicology Clay Greenberg said.
Eastman’s three gamelan ensembles allow students, faculty and community members alike a chance to add this music to their lives.
Ellen Koskoff, an associate professor of musicology at Eastman, brought gamelan to Eastman in 1991. Currently, with the help of Greenberg and visiting associate professor of gamelan I Nyoman Suadin, the program is flourishing but always looking for new members ? especially from the River Campus.
Gamelan at Eastman has grown tremendously since Koskoff brought it to Rochester ten years ago. There are currently 40 to 50 people in the group, representing Eastman and River Campus undergraduate and graduate students, several professors from Rochester and elsewhere, an Eastman administrator and even a Rochester-area seventh-grader.
Starting this year, three separate ensembles accomodate this large group of people. Musicians now have the choice to participate in gamelan angklung, joged bumbung or gender rambat.
Gamelan angklung consists of vertical and horizontal gongs, drums and xylophone-like bronze instruments. This group’s music, which ranges from traditional to new, can stand on its own to entertain or celebrate festivals. Often, the music of gamelan angklung also accompanies dance.
Greenberg journeyed to Bali last July to find replacement parts for Eastman’s set of Balinese gamelan angklung.
The music of gamelan joged bumbung may also either stand on its own or accompany dance ? the dance with which joged bumbung is most closely associated is a mildly flirtatious presentation that usually involves audience participation. Gamelan joged bumbung consists of gongs, drums and bamboo instruments.
Gamelan gender rambat is a modern chamber ensemble with many of the same instruments as the gamelan angklung. However, group members utilize a different tuning system with their instruments.
In Bali, competitions between gamelan groups are held regularly to foster group pride and identity similar to that touted by American sports teams.
Eastman’s gamelan ensembles ? for now, anyway ? stick to performing. Members of Eastman’s gamelan ensembles performed at the 2000 Musical Intersections conference in Toronto, in Buffalo in partnership with the University of Buffalo’s Indonesian Student Association, and last year’s Christmas Sing.
Gamelan will perform next at this year’s Christmas Sing, which is now referred to as the Holiday Sing, next month before break. The ensembles will also perform as part of Eastman’s World Music Series in the spring.
If you’re tired of the same old sounds, give Balinese music a try and look into joining or attending a performance of this inventive group of ensembles.
Weiss can be reached at email@example.com.