Indonesian musicians show they got gamelan


[media-credit name=”Serina Duarte, Staff” align=”alignright” width=”201″][/media-credit]Sorry Bob Marley, but planet Earth’s most popular form of island music is not reggae. Not even close. Indonesia’s 215 million people prefer Sundanese Gamelan.

San Diego’s Kembang Sunda ensemble performed a fascinating concert of percussive melodies at a recent Southwestern College recital. Traditionally played for the ancient courts of the Java and Bali regions of Indonesia, gamelan music is enjoyed today by every social status, including an appreciative Southwestern College audience.

The word gamelan is derived from the Javanese gamels, meaning “to strike or hammer.” Most of the instruments of a gamelan ensemble are metal percussion made of bronze, which provide the most pleasing sound compared to other metals. A distinct feature of these instruments is that each set is made and tuned to stay together, preventing interchangeability. This ties to the idea that one cannot gain a full sense of gamelan music by simply playing one instrument.

Forcibly striking metal calls to mind the thundering sound of Hephaestus’ hammer clanging against forged steel. Sound produced when striking a gamelan instrument is quite the opposite. One of the songs, “Ayun Ambing,” was a Sundanese lullaby that could cradle the heaviest of hearts to a blissful slumber with its contrapuntal and soothing sound.

“Kodomang” was the one contemporary piece of the five songs performed. It honored a true essence of traditional gamelan sound and had a cyclical serenity of the song that mimics the crashing of ocean waves.

Each song flowed like the words from a poet’s pen, punctuated with a thundering strike of the gong. Under the direction of Amy Hacker, the group evoked a feeling of tranquility within audience members, each instrument adding its own unique layer and timbre.

Like two woodpeckers in synchronicity, the hocketing sarons – xylophone-like instruments consisting of bronze bars resting on top of a resonating frame – alternated notes and carried pieces to their monumental climax.

Listening to Kembang Sunda had the cleansing benefits of meditation, relaxing enough to help 215 million people unwind.


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