Bucknell Gamelan Ensemble hosts workshop

Kelsey Werkheiser, Special Features Editor

The Bucknell Gamelan Ensemble presented a program of music and dance on Nov. 14 in the Weis Center Atrium. They began the performance with a piece called “Godeg Miring,” and then students took turns presenting history and information about the instrument. Then, attendees were invited to participate in a brief hands-on instrumental workshop.

Gamelan is a percussion ensemble composed of metallophones, pitched gongs, gong chimes, bamboo flutes and drums. It has a presence in multiple cultures, but Bucknell’s Gamelan is from Bali, an island in Indonesia. This specific variation is called “Semara Dana,”  which is a more modern style of ensemble. 

The music is not written and is rather learned aurally. This makes it easier for workshops like these to take place, regardless of someone’s musical experience. 

Performances rely heavily on the collaboration of all the musicians, and each musician is able to maintain their rhythm by following the other musicians in a type of non-verbal communication. 

This emphasis on collaboration was also important during the workshop, and attendees would partner with one of the musicians. If they were learning on a metallophone, they would sit opposite each other with it in between, and the participants would mirror the musician to learn the song. 

Alexander Greenawald 23, a current senior in the ensemble, spoke on the prevalence and importance of collaboration in Gamelan. 

Just the act of breathing together and needing to be so in-tune with each other has fostered a sense of community like I haven’t felt anywhere else on campus,” Greenawald said. “Theres no notation in gamelan that we follow, so it really is all about paying attention to the other people in the group and looking for subtle cues from the rest of the ensemble… its not an instrument you can play alone. It depends on the other people around you.”

Gamelan is traditionally used in religious ceremonies and festivals, and is often accompanied by dancers. The instruments themselves are handmade in Bali, and feature intricate designs and gold details. 

There is an expectation of respect when playing Gamelan, so the musicians are expected to remove their shoes and make sure not to step over the instruments. In place of traditional Balinese wear, the performers wore concert black and a purple sash around their waist.

Students are able to become involved with Gamelan by enrolling in the quarter-credit course that meets twice a week, directed by Associate Professor of Music Bethany Collier. 

“I’ve taken the course every semester…and enjoyed it every time,” Greenawald said. “Ive met some of my best friends through Gamelan and… it really brings us all together in a way I never expected.”

“There’s this phrase that we use in Gamelan called Suka Duka, that basically means ‘happy together, sad together.’ If one person in the group is off, we all are, and so we end up a very close knit and compassionate community,” Greenawald said.

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