Gamelan Practice – Gedangsari, Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta – In our last getaway in Gedangsari, Gunungkidul in Yogyakarta we enjoyed some incredible days at The Kamasari. And it is when a stay becomes an experience that it has really been worth it. We went to Gamelan pratice class in Mertelu Village. Java has rich musical traditions, traditional as well as westernized genres. One of theforms of well-known traditional music of Java is gamelan. Gamelan, derives from the word “gamel”, to strike or to handle, is a generic term referingto an ensemble which comprises predominantly of percussive instrument. However, vocal music has important role in the development of gamelan. In the beginning of this century, the term karawitan was introduced, embracing both vocal and instrumental elements in the gamelan.

As a consequence both of ethnographical setting and historical development, diverse gamelan styles exists. There are two principal styles: Balinese and Javanese gamelan. But in Java, like in Bali, several regional styles can be identified. Two of the most noted styles are Sundanese (or West Javanese) and Central Javanese gamelan.

Gamelan instruments are mostly metallophone and gong type instruments which producetones when struck with mallets (tabuh). Other types of percussion instruments included inthe gamelan ensemble are: a wooden xylophone (gambang), and a set of two headed drums (kendhang) played with the palm and/or fingers. There are a few instruments in the gamelan ensemble which are not percussion instruments: they are a two-stringed bowed instrument (rebab), a plucked zither-type instrument (celempung or siter), and a bambooflute (suling). A female singer (pesindhèn), and a male chorus of two or three singers (penggérong) also participate in the gamelan ensemble.

The gamelan musicians should sit crosslegged (silå) before their instruments. Because of this silå position, it is most comfortable for the musicians to take off their shoes or sandals. Commonly, the musicians hold the tabuh in their right hand, except if the instrument mustbe played with two tabuh.

Often, the Javanese consider a gamelan set as pusåkå, an inherited object which is endowedwith supernatural power. An honorific title, Kyai or “The Venerable Sir”, and name isassigned to the gamelan. 3 Periodically, an offering is provided and incense is burnedbefore the gong. For this reason, the Javanese always maintain a show of respect for the instruments.

Traditionally, one learns to play gamelan aurally. This is a learning process in which one has to spend much time listening to and observing gamelan performance. Several musical notations have been introduced and experimented with since the end of the nineteenth century. In present-day Java, cipher notation is commonly used as a teaching device and for analyses. Below are the traditional names of the pitches and their cipher equivalents.

Sléndro tuning system (see below), from low to high: barang (1), gulu (2), dhådhå (3), limå (5), nem (6)

Pélog tuning system (see below), from low to high:penunggul (1), gulu (2), dhådhå (3), pélog (4), limå (5), nem (6), barang (7)

Other symbols: A dot above a number indicates the upper octave; below a number, thelower octave. A dot in the place of a number indicates a rest or sustained sound. A dashabove a number, or numbers, indicates a fractional duration of the notes

For more introduction to Javanese Gamelan, download here: Intro.gamelan.pdf.

Stay tuned for more of our adventures at The Kamasari.


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