Monday, April 30, 2012

Gathering of the Gamelans

I attended the first three days of Gathering of the Gamelans, a national gamelan symposium and all-night wayang performance held at the University of York on 26 to 29 April. More than just attended in fact as the wayang was by yours truly, accompanied by more than 150 musicians from around the UK. I'll let others blog about the wayang show (I know my friend Simon van der Walt is planning something) but wanted to say a few words about the symposium (organised by PhD student at the university), which did an excellent job in showcasing recent developments in UK gamelan. I didn't get to half of the sessions due to preparations for the wayang, but what I did see and hear struck me as both respectful of tradition and also very innovative. One of the more startling revelations was a presentation by Bristol-based music educator Andy Gleadhill (titled Employing gamelan to reach pupils who do not readily engage in school music) which revealed that he had developed a simplified version of gamelan (with textbooks, teacher training etc) and had brought 60 sets of instruments made from recycled metal in Bali into schools around the UK. A workshop by Nikhil Dally (“The Song of the Gong”: teaching Javanese gamelan to the early-years with reference to Kod├íly, Dalcroze & Alexander) was wonderfully participatory, asking 15 volunteers to behave like 6 years olds in learning a simple gamelan piece through song, movement and play.
Also noteworthy (for me at least) was Bapak AL Suwardi's presentation on his instrument making practices. I studied suling with Pak AL briefly in Solo in 1988, and he made me a couple of suling as part of this- but his 'gamelan planet' instruments today are very innovative indeed. Congratulations are due particularly to Ginevra House - who did so much of the organising!

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