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February 13, 2014 - Image 12

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

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4B - Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

4B - Thursday, February 13, 2014 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

From Page lB
"The gamelan program at
the University of Michigan is
one of the oldest and most suc-
cessful gamelan programs with
ethnomusicologists in the Unit-
ed States. Judith Becker is kind
of like the mother of all modern
ethnomusicologists," Midiyan-
to said. "There are about 200
sets like this in America. And
the University of Michigan has
one of the oldest and one of the
most established gamelan pro-
Midiyanto added that only
three out of the 200 have the
rare instrument known as the
Bonang Panembung, or large
set of gong-chimes: Wesleyan,
Berkeley and Michigan.
Sitting in on one of the
gamelan ensemble's Tuesday
evening rehearsals, I under-
stood what Susan Walton
meant by saying that the music.
was more than the instrument's
mellifluous sounds; it was a
window into the humility and
egalitarianism of Javanese cul-
ture and values.
"When you learn Javanese
gamelan, it's because you want
to pacify your own mind,"
Midiyanto said. "(It's a) reflec-
tion of society; there's no one
more important than the oth-
ers. It's all equal loudness, soft-
ness. There should not be ego.in
the community. No one should
feel like 'Oh, I'm the leader.' It's
communal; it's a responsive and
interactive thing ... We just try
to be humble; as you see we sit
without chairs."
Saturday's concert will show-
case both traditional, central
Javanese music pieces and new
compositions that meld West-
ern and Eastern influences. A
dancer from the Indonesian
consulate in Chicago will also
perform a dynamic and flirta-

tious piece often seen at wed-
dings. Composer Lou Harrison,
who passed away ten years ago,
wrote a piece for the gamelan
and a viola called "Threnody"
that will be performed by a stu-
dent on her double bass.
I have a gamelan ... you have
a gamelan.
The diverse group of stu-
dents and professors who com-
prise the University's gamelan
ensemble sit cross-legged on
the regal red carpet. After a
round of music is over, they get
up and rotate to another indtru-
"To be honest there are usu-
ally separate ethnic or cul-
tural groups when performing
a world art form," said Beth
Genna, Professor of Dance His-
tory in Arts and Ideas at the
Residential College and in the
Dance Department.
Genne believes the Gamelan
Ensemble has been one of
the most diverse performing
arts groups on campus. The
gamelan attracts students from
all over Asia as well as the West.
Genn6 is a long-standing mem-
ber of the University Gamelan
and has great affection for its
deniocratic approach to music.
"It's in the culture to cooper-
ate," Genn6 said. "In the West,
it's all about competition, who's
better than the other - in this
environment, the Javanese cul-
ture stresses community. And
so it is when you're doing the
music. And then of course you
fall in love with the music and
dance - oh it's such a gorgeous
"I think there have been
generations now of students
who've learned from people like
Midi what Javanese culture is,"
Genn6 said. "It's certainly been
true for me, to really under-
stand and be connected in a
very straightforward way - a


SMT&D freshman Jon Chun plays the gamelan.

very strong and heartfelt con-
nection because you're doing
music and dance ... It's friend-
ship. My understanding, and I
know for many of the students
that I've had, their understand-
ing of Indonesia is a personal
one. And it's through music."
Midiyanto speaks of the pow-
ers the gamelan has in fostering
peaceful relations. Even when
there were no formal diplo-
matic relations between Israel
and Indonesia, the University
of Tel Aviv prized its gamelan.
Indonesian passports warned
their holders to avoid Israel,
but it was powerless to stop the
gamelan exchange.
"It's through cultural con-
nections," Midiyanto said. "It's
nothing to do with the political
or diplomatic channel. That's

very important."
With the University's empha-
sis on internationalism, study
abroad experiences and global
partnerships, we can look at the
gamelan, which has been facili-
tating those experiences since
1965, as a model.
"I think that Mary Sue Cole-
man has initiated a program
to make the University more
international, and global, and
the gamelan has been doing
this kind of global work for
decades," Walton said. "It's a
wonderful way of bringing peo-
ple, who otherwise would have
had no interest in doing inter-
national studies, to that part of
the world. It's very successful
way of encouraging interna-
After playingin the gamelan or
taking one of the courses taught
by a Javanese guest artist, many
students have decided to travel to
Indonesia to study.
"One of the great opportuni-
ties of the students here has been
to be able to not only study with
people like Midiyanto, but also
to travel to Indonesia to study,"
Genn4 said. "We've had a whole
succession of students - under-
graduates and graduates - that
have gone."
I spoke with Music, Theater
& Dance junior Alexis Turner
about her experience in visiting
artist Anon Suneko's Javanese
dance class last year and her per-
formance in the Gamelan con-
cert. As part of their curriculum,
dance majors are required to take
two world dance classes. Hav-
ing already immersed herself in
Afro-Caribbean dance, Turner
decided to go for something else:
"I wanted to try class that had
movement that wasn't necessar-
ily on such a large scale, but was
more intricate and really focused
on elegance and gracefulness -
and something that would be out
of my element," said Turner. "It's
something that I knew I could

only get training in here; it's not
such a common form of dance ...
it's these experiences that make U
of M - you can'tjust go anywhere
and take a Javanese dance class or
go take a gamelan class."
Saturday's concert, some
worry, may be the last the Univer-
sity will enjoy in its full 69-instru-
ment gamelan splendor - at least
for a couple of years. Due to the
School of Music, Theatre and
Dance's long-needed renovation,
the gamelan will be temporarily
displaced and will find itself with
room for only about one-third of
its instruments.
"The concert in Stamps on
Feb. 15 may be the last concert of
the full gamelan that we'll ever
have at the University of Michi-
gan - we don't know," Walton
said. "We've only been promised
19 instruments. And we may not
even be able to use those. So this
is a wonderful opportunity to see
the gamelan."
Although Christopher Ken-
dall, Music, Theater & Dance
dean, expresses his support for
the gamelan and his hopes for
it to continue, there's a degree
of uncertainty with the school's
plans for the ensemble following
the construction period expected
to end around the fall of 2015.
"We have to be very, very
careful about moving forward,
because this project won't
address all of our space issues,"
Kendall said. "It's an exciting
project, but it does involve mov-
ing a number of things around
both temporarily and permanent-
ly because the building is going to
change pretty significantly. This
process is going to be disruptive
- there's no question."
"The School of Music's priori-
ties have shifted, and they have
told us that the gamelan is low on
their priority list," Walton said.
"And so they have decided to take
over the space that was specially
created for the gamelan in 1996,
and use that for piano pedagogy."
Walton continued to echo this

"We see a trajectory of the
gamelan," she said. "The School
of Music reducing our funding -
most of our funding - and then
the graduate student instructor
for the gamelan, we won't have
him. We no longer have the room
in the School of Music. We no lon-
ger have most of our instruments.
It's a gradual erosion of our
resources and it makes us fear for
what will happen in the future. So
that's what we're faced with."
After the construction is com-
pleted, the current gamelan prac-
tice space will not be it's home.
The dean hopes to find a better
room for it, saying he thinks the
original room was too small. But
this point does not know where
that will be.
"We don't have the solution
yet, but our effort is really to
find appropriate space for it and
hopefully it's optimal space," said
Dean Kendall. "You know obvi-
ously when you're going through
a process like this there are some
uncertainties and some disrup-
tion that can be upsetting, but I
think the intentions and plans are
very positive and supportive."
Kendall, and people such as
Walton and Genne, have men-
tioned the possibility of support
for the gamelan outside Music,
Theater & Dance. Walton hopes
that the gamelan can get into LSA
and thinks the ensemble would
be a good fit to the liberal arts
curriculum. The gamelan courses
don't just teach the music, but
emphasize the culture, history,
and interdisciplinary expression
in the traditions. She would love
for it to find a home in the Resi-
dential College - where many
of the associated workshops are
taught - but knows it too has lim-
ited space.
"I think just the main point
is, as the University is striving to
forge a more international image
of itself, the gamelan is already
here to help accomplish that
goal," Walton said.

Sally Oey pictured here participating in a gamelan session.

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