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February 13, 2014 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-02-13

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Navigating an uncertain future at the 'U'
V ( l l ii' ll .N lu ll) ()l-----------------T O l

We have a gamelan... but what is it?
A gamelan is a group of musical instruments - ones steeped in
thousands ofyears of Javanese and Balinese tradition and built and
tuned as a unified harmonic ensemble. Each gamelan is unique,
and instruments from one gamelan are generally not interchange-
able with those of another.
Gamelan performances can range from just music to a multi-art
spectacular featuring traditional dance, costumes and elaborate
puppet theatre. Ritual preparation precedes the performances,
Offerings are presented to the spirits of the sacred musical ensem-
ble. Drawingfrom Hindu and Buddhist practices, performers work
to reach a level of profound concentration and fiery enthusiasm.
There are fewer than 200 gamelans in the United States and
only one in Michigan - ours. But now, with changes looming at
the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, some fear the future of our
gamelan isn't so secure.
We have a gamelan... but how'd we get it in the first place?
1965 was a year marked by growing tensions in American rela-
tions with Southeast Asian nations and an escalation of the war
in Vietnam. In March of that year, the University witnessed the
first major "teach-in," an educational anti-war demonstration that
later spread to many other institutions of higher education. Mean-
while, the 1964-65 World's Fair, with its theme of "Peace Through
Understanding," served in some ways as a beacon of hope. Indo-

nesia was the first Southeast Asian nation to agree to participate
- a 69-piece Javanese gamelan was a highlight of its exhibit. But
anti-Western sentiments caused Indonesia to withdraw from the
United Nations and remove its exhibit from the World's Fair. Due
to financial difficulties, they needed to sell the gamelan.
The University competed with Wesleyan University to pur-
chase it, each putting down $2,000 for the set. Somehow, a second
gamelan was procured and each institution received one.
We have agamelan ... now what?
Judith Becker, who was a graduate student studying ethnomu-
sicology at the University when the gamelan arrived in the '60s,
recalls being thrilled when it was first delivered to campus. She
listened to recordings, learned gamelan herself and helped estab-
lish an ensemble. A year or so later, Susan Walton, now the direc-
tor of the University's ensemble, joined the gamelan.
"I found the gamelan just by luck and fell in love with it," Wal-
ton said. "It taught me all sorts of musical principles that I hadn't
been aware of. It also modeled a kind of communal way of doing
music, which I thought was wonderful: the notion that anybody
can play music. That playing music together was like having a
party together. Some people at the party know how to sing bet-
ter than others, but nobody really cares - the whole point is that
you're playing it, you're singing it together."
By 1971, Walton was traveling to the archipelago nation to do
original research and make connections that would later help to

expand the University's gamelan program.
"I was learning about another culture and falling in love with
the language and the people, the history and the art and music it's
almost like a love affair - just a passion for everything Indone-
sian. And I see that in so many of my students too," Walton said.
Over the years, Becker and Walton have attracted generations
of renowned artists for gamelan residencies. Since 1967 there have
been 51 residencies of puppeteers, dancers or musicians. Some are
for a year, some for a semester, others for just a short time.
We have a gamelan...
Saturday, Feb.15 at Stamps Auditorium
The University's gamelan resident is Midiyanto, the director
of the University of California, Berkeley Gamelan and a seventh
generation gamelan performer. He's been coaching student and
faculty performers in preparation for Saturday's concert. He's
also teaching a Wayang Kulit workshop exploring the symbol-
ism and philosophy of traditional shadow puppet theater, and
the stories it often depicts from the great Indian epics, the
Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
In 1988, a young Midiyanto came to the University for
the first time and played with the gamelan ensemble. Fifteen
years later, he returned for a residency. Now he's back for a
third go-around. Instead of staying on the west coast for UC,
Berkeley's winter break, Midiyanto chose to spend these six
weeks in Michigan.
See GAMELAN, Page 4B



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