Well my second year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has finished and I’ve learnt so much that at least I have the summer now to digest it.
One of the units I took this year was in gamelan music, it was a four week immersion into the music and culture of Indonesia and formed part of the practical musicianship module which ran throughout the school year. Gamelan is an orchestra of percussion instruments. I had never heard of gamelan before taking this class and it was a great way to experience music from the Indonesian culture and explore the sounds and vibrations.
The Indonesians use the music in many of their traditional dances and during their festivals. My favourite instrument was the ceng-ceng ( pronounced cheng-cheng ) which I loved to use in the practice sessions.
Ceng-Ceng consist of a set of four small cymbals mounted inverted on a wooden frame, which are struck with a pair of small cymbals held by the fingers to create crashing and shimmering punctuation along with the drummer – the Ceng-ceng player is often the drummer’s apprentice. The ceng-ceng is a deceptively difficult instrument to play well.
Dr J Simon van der Walt taught us the module and lead the ensemble into different tempo relationships a bit like a conductor. We played whilst sat cross-legged on the floor with shoes off, there were 30 of us on the course.
He made the group sessions entertaining and interesting for us all. We began by learning different chants which we would then perform on instruments. So each word referred to an instrument. It was a lot if fun but the chants were fast and like tongue twisters it was so hard to keep up with at times.
In the last session I got to lead the Ceng-Ceng which I enjoyed tremendously and it was a fabulous way to end the course.
Sadly I didn’t think to get a photograph of our group but if you take part in a gamelan music group then I would love to see your photographs of an actual active group of gamelan musicians.
The RCS will be running a summer short course from the 8th to 12th September 2014 and if you are interested you can find further details on their website
I found this video on YouTube of a Gabor ( welcome ) dance which uses gamelan music and Balinese dancers which I hope gives you the flavour of the music and how it’s used.