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Bali And Java Gamelan Goes To America

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The beauty and melodious sound of Indonesian traditional gamelan performed on the international scene, often invites admiration from the audience. This is what always happens when the strains of gamelan are heard at various cultural festivals in America.

“The sound of the gamelan is very interesting,” said Fransiska, one of the German spectators at the “Performing Indonesia” music festival that was held at the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C. Fransiska herself is a member of the Cornell Gamelan Ensemble group in Ithaca, New York.

The audience was again amazed when they saw many Americans who proudly also performed and played gamelan while wearing traditional Indonesian clothing.

Apart from the performance, the soft gamelan has also attracted the attention of Hollywood film director Peter Jackson, to include gamelan instruments from the Padhang Moncar gamelan group in New Zealand as part of the musical illustration of the film The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug.

What actually makes gamelan more popular in America?

Gamelan and the US Academic World

It all began in 1958, when the American music expert, the late Mantle Hood, created a Javanese and Balinese gamelan music program at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), having previously studied gamelan in Indonesia. Not long after that, Mantle Hood who is also the founder of the Institute of Ethnomusicology at UCLA invited several gamelan instructors from Indonesia, one of whom was Hardja Susilo from Yogyakarta who is now a gamelan teacher in Hawaii.

Emiko Saraswati Susilo, Director and Guest Dance Director of the Gamelan Sekar Jaya group in Berkeley
Emiko Saraswati Susilo, Director and Guest Dance Director of the Gamelan Sekar Jaya group in Berkeley
“Many ethnomusicologists are interested in Javanese, Balinese and Indonesian culture. So there is a lot of connection with the academic world too. So many gamelan is owned by universities in the United States, “said Emiko Saraswati Susilo (41), daughter of Hardja Susilo who is also the Director and Guest Dance Director of the Gamelan Sekar Jaya group in Berkeley, California, to VOA Washington, D.C. recently.

Since then various universities in the US, such as Wesleyan, University of California, Berkeley, Cornell, Yale, and Harvard began to follow in the footsteps of UCLA by holding gamelan classes on campus. The ownership of gamelan instruments on campus is also seen as a prestigious thing. “Gamelan becomes an exclusive sign or symbol,” said Andrew Clay McGraw (39), a lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the University of Richmond, Virginia, where gamelan courses are also taught.

Students from various majors who take gamelan classes on average are Americans who fall in love immediately after hearing the sound of gamelan music.

Gamelan Bali Ragakusuma directed by Andrew McGraw in Richmond, Virginia (photo / dock: Andrew McGraw)
Gamelan Bali Ragakusuma directed by Andrew McGraw in Richmond, Virginia (photo / dock: Andrew McGraw)
“If Americans see that gamelan is very cool and this is new to him, even though in Indonesia there has been gamelan for 1000 years, until now children are bored, but for Americans this is something new,” continued Andrew, who is also the founder from the Balinese gamelan group, Raga kusuma, in Richmond, Virginia.

Togetherness in Gamelan

Love at first sight of gamelan is also supported by American admiration for the sense of togetherness that is created among gamelan players. “If we are in America, if you have already gone ‘college’ from home. After work, leave again. Sometimes people don’t have family ties or neighbor ties like we have in Indonesia, but that is actually very strong in the world of gamelan, “Emiko said. “So I think it also answers a longing that is in the hearts of people in America to be bound in one community,” continued the woman of Yogyakarta and Japanese descent to VOA.

Gamelatron, project created by US senimas, Aaron Taylor Kuffner (photo / doc: Aaron Taylor Kuffner)
Gamela

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