My Gamelan Experience

By Lauren Glass '13

Shameless plug from the author: The gamelan ensemble will be performing their fall concert this Sunday, November 24, in Sears Recital Hall at 7p.m. Come show your support for the student performers and experience the therapeutic sounds of this traditional Indonesian musical style.


“A gamelan is a traditional musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Java and Bali, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, kendang (drums) and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included. For most Indonesians, gamelan music is an integral part of Indonesian culture.”

Thank you Wikipedia.

As stated above, gamelan is an ensemble of various instruments that aren’t so common in Western culture. So when my friend, Steven, asked me to join UD’s gamelan ensemble this year, I was definitely hesitant. Having no idea what it was all about didn’t help.

My main excuse was pretty legitimate. I work 10 hours a week, live in a special interest community that requires extra time for projects, and was already taking (at that time) 20 credit hours! I didn’t think I had an extra hour and a half a week to spare.

But I went for it, and am glad that I did.

It’s fun. It’s relaxing. The music is slow and soothing, and no musical skill or talent is required (especially for the gong—which is my favorite). Just show up, and do what you can. Oh and you put on a concert in Sears at the end of the semester. No pressure, right? Yeah, so maybe that part was a little intimidating, but I got over it.

It’s a little challenging at first (well, for some people… mainly me), but just the right amount to make it interesting. You pick it up pretty quickly though, and by the end of the third practice, you’re rocking not one, but three or four different instruments.

Once the whole piece comes together and every person settles at their own instrument, the music becomes rhythmic, drawing you in as you play the patterned piece that loops to no end. All of your focus is on each knock of the boning, back and forth, back and forth, or each swing at the gong, its vibrations permeating for several seconds through the continuous melody of the other instruments, as it waits again for its turn at the end of each set. Each instrument adds its character. Their personalities come together like a family, as you listen to the story of their day to day lives, adding your own instrument’s monologue to the mix.

No longer was it “one more thing” on my schedule, but one of the highlights of my week. I looked forward to this therapeutic release from the stresses of school and work. I genuinely missed being at practice when I had to skip because I was sick, or had to attend another event at the same time. Let me tell you, the Indonesians know how to make great music that’s simple, easy to learn, and fun to play.

It’s sad to say, but this weekend marks the end of these gamelan sessions. Sunday is the final performance at Sears, an exciting but bittersweet thing to note. I encourage everyone to come to the concert for a relaxing hour of this unique style of music, and, even more so, I encourage everyone to join the gamelan ensemble themselves next semester if they’re interested. It’s a decision you won’t regret.

Lauren Glass is a senior at the University of Dayton, where she is studying journalism. Currently working as a social media assistant for ArtStreet, she enjoys music, writing, and photography.

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