Sept. 23, 2004

Javanese gamelan

By Lindsay Hitz

There are very few Javanese gamelans on college or university campuses in Pennsylvania, but one of them is at Bucknell University. What's a gamelan, you ask? It's a set of 15 percussion instruments that form a unified ensemble of xylophones, pots, drums and gongs.

Bucknell's gamelan is the gift of Dorothy Seesholtz Mullestein, Class of '48. The gamelan was ordered last year from Suhirdjan, a family of Javanese instrument makers in Yogyakarta, and the instruments were shipped from Indonesia in midsummer and delivered, unpacked and set up earlier this month.

"Javanese and Balinese gamelans are popular on campuses that have ethnomusicology or world music programs, in part because the primary techniques are learned easily," says Jackson Hill, professor of music at Bucknell. "Students can quickly develop basic skills in playing a limited but authentic Indonesian repertoire on a variety of these beautiful instruments."

Ethnomusicology is the formal study of the musical cultures and practices of musicians who work outside the western classical tradition.

Exposure to musical cultures outside the European classical tradition has in recent years become increasingly important in music studies, says Hill. Exploration of such music is a significant component of modern curricula in music theory, music education, and music history.

Playing a gamelan, says Hill, is one way in which musicians can have hands-on experience with an established non-western repertoire.

Two other gamelans on college campuses in the state are at Swarthmore and the University of Pittsburgh.

Currently, Bucknell's gamelan is set up in the percussion studio of Bucknell's music department. Organizational meetings and beginning instruction for interested students began the week of Sept. 20.

Students are currently learning basic Javanese techniques. The ensemble anticipates presenting a public concert on campus later in the school year.

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Lindsay Hitz is a presidential fellow in Bucknell University's communications office.

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