Gamelan music drums onto campus

A new course delves into the culture and sounds of Javanese instruments.

Percussion graduate student David Birrow sat on the floor Friday during rehearsal, surrounded by dozens of hand-carved wooden instruments.

Birrow, along with four other University students, learned to play many different Javanese Gamelan instruments this semester as part of the University Javanese Gamelan Ensemble.

“I like getting away from traditional and doing something completely different from classical and jazz,” Birrow said.

Music professor Joko Sutrisno, who started the Gamelan music class, said this is the first semester the class has been available at the University.

Sutrisno encourages his students to move around to different instruments so they understand how each is played, he said.

“Gamelan music is communal and a student has to know how everything fits together,” Sutrisno said.

Birrow said the ensemble is made up of a wide variety of instruments, such as various gongs, bronze xylophones and a drum, which serves to lead the music.

Students typically play the instruments on the floor, Birrow said, because the music is traditionally played for hours at a time.

Philosophy senior Evan Bremer first heard Gamelan music last fall during his music and society class. He said he was automatically interested.

“I like the exposure to such a different music than what is popular and available in the U.S. and western culture,” he said.

The class concentrates mostly on musical performance, Sutrisno said, but also touches on the cultural aspect of the music.

“The music is based on the culture,” he said. “What happens in the music happened in the culture.”

Sutrisno said the music is common to central Java and is played during various types of celebrations.

He said the sound of the music is like “flowing water,” sometimes dreamy or lively.

Sutrisno said Gamelan music has been in the Twin Cities since 1995 and was established by the Schubert Club, which in 2003 became part of the Indonesian Performing Arts Association of Minnesota.

He said there are currently more than 200 Javanese Gamelan music groups in the United States.

Sutrisno, a graduate of the Indonesian Academy of Performing Arts in Surakarta, Central Java, said he wanted to teach the class for a long time.

Now that the class has started, he said he likes “the struggle with the students.”

“It is a challenging but fun class,” Sutrisno said.

The class is available to all students, no matter their academic levels or musical backgrounds, he said.

where to go

Javanese gamelan ensemble
WHAT: Student ensemble playing traditional drum music.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Rm 95 Ferguson Hall
For more information go to the campus events calendar.

Moira Hill, a musicology graduate student, said Sutrisno is talented to be able to teach graduate students, children and the community.

“Anyone can learn from him,” she said.

The Javanese Gamelan Ensemble performs tonight in Ferguson Hall.

Freelance Editor Yelena Kibasova welcomes feedback at [email protected].