My ethnographic research, performance and teaching intersect really nicely. When I get to bring the students into that world, and that world back to my students, that’s when the magic happens.
Professor Bethany Collier, music, was an undergraduate when she first encountered the gamelan — the traditional ensemble music of Indonesia, played on gongs, bronze keys, drums and bamboo flutes. The deep gongs and beautifully crafted instruments mesmerized her. "The sounds were so intricately layered, so precisely interwoven. I watched how carefully the musicians listened to each other — and there were no music stands in sight," she recalls.
After traveling to Bali and Java on scholarship to learn more about Indonesian music and culture, Collier was hooked. The experience inspired her to pursue ethnomusicology — the study of how people make music in a given cultural context, and what that music-making means to them. She specializes in the music and culture of Indonesia, with a focus on issues related to ethnicity, identity and representation in contemporary Balinese performance. In addition to her scholarly research, Collier performs Balinese instrumental and vocal music in the U.S. and Indonesia, and is president and artistic director of Gamelan Dharma Swara in New York City.
"I found Balinese music to be really freeing in a lot of ways. For me, music had always been a very literate experience — I understood 'music' to mean reading and interpreting the notes written on a page," she explains. "But gamelan depends on listening to other people and making your part fit in precisely with what they are doing — the different parts have to interlock in a tightly coordinated way. I really like how mathematical the system of organization feels, and how the music relies on everyone listening to — and caring about — each other. It pushes your brain to do a different kind of work."
In courses like Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Music and Africa and the Diaspora, Collier introduces students to music from around the world and helps them develop the analytical skills needed to understand diverse musical systems. She also teaches foundation seminars in the Arts Residential College, directs the Bucknell Gamelan Ensemble (the Balinese orchestra) and takes students on immersion trips to Bali.
"My ethnographic research, performance and teaching intersect really nicely," Collier says. "When I get to bring the students into that world, and that world back to my students, that's when the magic happens."
Posted Sept. 30, 2015