Students enrolled in the course “Central Javanese Gamelan Ensemble” finished off their semester with a concert celebrating gamelan music and their work throughout the term.
The event, which showcased the musical tradition of the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, drew a crowd of 50 people to Sage Hall on Monday night. The concert featured two performance groups — Central Javanese Ensemble, which consists of the students in Music 232b, and Yale Community Gamelan, which includes performers from all over campus, said Maho Ishiguro, the ensemble’s director. For more than an hour and a half, the audience sat mesmerized by the peaceful and melodic music emanating from beautiful and elaborate traditional instruments.
“I thought it was really nice. It was a style of music I hadn’t heard before, so hearing it was a new experience, and one that I really enjoyed,” Ryan Ritraj ’20 said. “I think that groups like this bring a culture [to Yale] that wouldn’t be represented otherwise and increase exposure to that through people seeing the performance and through the performers themselves.”
Students played a number of extravagant instruments adorned with intricate designs and gold paint. The songs featured a group of instruments that resembled pots but sounded like bells. Some of them involved chant-like singing by the performers; others featured a heavier drum beat.
Many of the attendees, like Ritraj, were friends of the 15 student performers. The biannual concert was the capstone event of Music 232b, a class that focuses on both analysis and performance of Gamelan music. Ishiguro, who teaches the class, said she was impressed by how quickly the students learned pieces that are part of a complex music tradition. Leah Meyer ’18, one of the performers, enrolled in the class after watching a guest lecture by Ishiguro — who she said sparked her interest in studying gamelan music.
“It’s really important, both to have a concert like this where they can present [the music] to the student body, but also for students to take the class, and learn about other cultures. I think it’s really awesome that we offer it,” said Hannah LaBovick ’18, one of the concert’s attendees.
Following the student group performance, Yale Community Gamelan performed more complex songs set to a slightly faster pace. According to Ishiguro, these performers have practiced the craft for longer than just a semester, though they were able to meet only a few times this year due to inclement weather.
According to Meyer, a significant benefit of gamelan music is that while years of study are necessary to perfect the craft, it is relatively accessible for beginners, who can pick up the basics of working with the instruments fairly easily.
“Part of the reason why I became a music major was to expand my academic background on the Western music I grew up with, but also to expand beyond that, and this is an amazing opportunity to learn a new kind of music,” Meyer said. “It’s accessible, and it opens you up to a whole world, and a complex and rich musical tradition.”
No two gamelan sets have exactly the same tuning, giving each one its own distinctive character.
Maya Chandra | firstname.lastname@example.org