Gamelan Ensemble Performs at Indonesian Embassy

Wesleyan's gamelan is an ensemble that consists of predominantly metallophone and gong type instruments. The instruments produce tones when struck with mallets.

Fresh off a performance at Crowell Concert Hall last week, Wesleyan’s Indonesian gamelan ensemble packed its gongs for Washington.

Led by Adjunct Professor of Music Sumarsam and artist in residence I.M. Harjito, the ensemble performed at the Indonesian Embassy March 4, in an opening event for a festival celebrating composer Lou Harrison (1917-2003). Harrison is the American composer credited with merging gamelan music and Western concert traditions.

Gamelan refers to several varieties of Indonesian ensemble music performed mainly with metallophone and bronze gong-type instruments played with mallets. (Listen to the Wesleyan gamelan ensemble perform “Ladrang Gegot laras pelog pathet nem” in this audio clip, courtesy of the World Music Archives.)

Wesleyan’s gamelan ensemble also played at The George Washington University on March 5.

“Diplomacy is not necessarily limited to political and economic issues,” said Sumarsam, who delivered an address at the embassy about the influence of Westerners in Indonesian music. “It can be cultural as well.”

“Sublime Confluence: The Music of Lou Harrison,” is a production of Washington-based Post-Classical Ensemble, a group co-founded by Wesleyan Adjunct Professor of Music Angel Gil-Ordóñez. He is its music director.

At Wesleyan, Gil-Ordóñez is director of private lessons, chamber music and ensembles, music director of the Wesleyan Orchestra and Wesleyan Concert Choir.

Wesleyan is a leading institution in the United States for the study and performance of World Music, including gamelan. The Wesleyan gamelan ensemble performs off campus just two or three times a year, according to Sumarsam, a gamelan master who directs the gamelan with Harjito, now on sabbatical.

The Wesleyan ensemble has performed at the Indonesian Embassy at least once before, in the 1970s, Sumarsam says.

Indonesia’s ambassador opened Friday’s event. It included speeches, films and a performance by the Wesleyan gamelan group on the Indonesian Embassy Gamelan.

In all, more than 15 members of Wesleyan’s gamelan ensemble participated in the Washington events, a group that includes faculty members and students, among them Pramudya Yudhiakto, a graduate student in physics from Indonesia. He is the only Indonesian in Wesleyan’s ensemble.

They brought 14 or 15 pieces from Wesleyan’s collection of gamelan instruments, including kendhang (drum), gender barung (a type of bronze-keyed xylophone), rebab (bowed lute), gambang (wooden xylophone) and several types of gong.

One of the university’s two complete sets was acquired from the 1964 World’s Fair.

The Wesleyan gamelan ensemble  traveled to Washington in a rented coach with the instruments carefully packed and stowed, Sumarsam says, among “a lot of pillows.”