REVIEW: GAH-muh-lan

There’s nothing better than relieving all your anger and frustration on a gong. The resounding noise fills the room as you wail on that thing with all you’ve got. It’s incredibly satisfying. If you are like me and lack the proper funds for Javanese instruments, you probably don’t have one lying around. That’s why it’s good to stay informed about music events, especially Gamelan ones.

I walked in on the music co-op’s (MCEQ) event tonight with guest-speaker, Susan Walton, an RC professor who teaches about Indonesian music and dance. It was a little awkward at first, seeing as I’m not actually a member of MCEQ; however, with my camera and notepad, I felt somewhat dignified for being there. The tiny stage was littered with various red and gold painted instruments while Walton began with a brief introduction. She explained that Gamelan refers to an ensemble of Indonesian instruments. The Gamelan we were playing tonight was from central Java, an island off of Indonesia (hence, Javanese). She warned us that the instruments within the Gamelan are believed to be alive and, therefore, cannot be stepped over in fear of getting bitten (which is true because, as she related, she stepped over one before and got so badly bitten, she ended up in the ER).

Once the instruments were in organized disarray, she gestured for us to take our places on pillows, bare-footed, in allotted positions. She gave us simplistic melodies to mimic, numbering the notes accordingly. We repeated on our instruments, and actually managed to stay synchronized enough to create a decent sound. It reminded me of that music you hear that sounds, well, “asian,” but you can’t quite put your finger on where or why it sounds like that (or what that even means). It was incredibly awesome. Once we got good at our little tune, Walton came in on the drum, improvising with rhythmic syncopations. Just when I feared my arms were going to fall off from holding up the gong, she signaled the final refrain by changing up the rhythm on the drum. Dramatic pause, then I finished the song as instructed with a final gooooonnggg (she unfortunately failed to inform me in advance that it was supposed to be “much quieter.” My arm is still sore from how hard I hit that thing…).

It was truly a spectacular event hosted by music co-op and led by us, under the instruction of Susan Walton. I’m so glad I came and I’m excited to hear what other great events music co-op has in store. And, who knows, maybe I’ll even sign up for Walton’s one credit Javanese music class next semester!