The Bucknell Javanese Gamelan Ensemble in performance.

By Mike Gibney '08

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Bucknell Javanese Gamelan Ensemble will give an informal concert Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m. in the Rooke Recital Hall of the Weis Music Building at Bucknell.

Bucknell Music Professor Jackson Hill will lead the gamelan performance by an ensemble of 15 members of the Bucknell community playing Javanese instruments in a traditional style.

The Gamelan Banteng Lembah, Indonesian for "The Buffalo Valley Gamelan," features percussion instruments, including the saron (xylophone), bonang (kettles), gong, and tuned drums to create the unique sound.

Opportunity to learn
The gamelan, said Hill, is an "opportunity for people to learn authentic non-Western music without a big time commitment."

Traditional melodies, with titles such as Forest Echoes, Singing Turtledoves, Playing Pranks, A Gift of Love, and A Thousand Weaverbirds, continue in a pattern throughout each piece and are punctuated with layered rhythms and scales that weave in and out of the original melody. The result is a forceful and yet soothing rhythmic sound that rings with qualities of both a strong melody and improvisational percussion.

Unlike most Western jazz-inspired notions of improvisation, the gamelan has been described using the Javanese term kembangan (flowering) to portray the image of floating improvised layers.

A mystical backdrop
Typically, the music of the gamelan is used to accompany Indonesian shadow-puppet plays, providing a mystical backdrop to the distinctive art. It has been the sound of both Indonesian ritual and royalty for thousands of years.

Some Japanese or Indian ensembles may take many years to assemble and to learn, but the gamelan is an instrument that is ideal for students learning the basics of Eastern music. "It is a window into one non-Western tradition that is opened fairly quickly and easily," said Hill.

He played his first gamelan in 1970 in Lewisburg on a set of instruments that was on loan from a Bucknell student's family. The current Bucknell gamelan is a gift from alumna Dorothy Seesholtz Mullestein '48.

Of the 60 gamelan ensembles in the United States, only three are located at universities in Pennsylvania.  The performance is free and open to the public.

(Jackson Hill recordings.)

Posted Nov. 3, 2006

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