frenchpony (frenchpony) wrote,

  • Music:

Sri Sedånå

Several people have commented that my posts about the gamelan are difficult to understand. So here are a couple of pictures that I took back at the end of September at one of our weekly rehearsals.

This is our bronze gamelan, Sri Sedånå, named after a Hindu rice goddess. It was going to be a picspam, but the pictures refused to show up for some reason. So you'll just have to click to see them.

In the back, you can see the racks with the hanging vertical gongs. The smaller ones are the kempuls, and the two gong agengs are at the ends of the rack. The set of large kettle gongs immediately to the right of the rack are the kenongs. The small metallophones arranged in front of the rack are sarons. The two smaller kettle gongs in front of the sarons and next to the drums are the kethuk and kempyang. The big racks of the really tiny kettle gongs are called the bonangs. Immediately to the left of the drums is a gendér, pronounced with a hard "g."

The instruments fall into one of a few basic function categories. The gongs on the rack, along with the kenongs, kethuk, and kempyang, are the colotomic instruments. They keep the structure of the piece going.

The sarons, along with another instrument called the slenthem (which I couldn't fit into the photos) carry the melody, called the balungan*.

The bonangs, gendér, and a couple of other instruments -- the gambang (wooden xylophone), rebab (two-stringed spike fiddle), cither (a zither), and celempung (another zither; we don't own one, but the Venerable Lake of Gold did), and suling (bamboo flute) -- elaborate on the balungan.

The drummer leads the ensemble, setting the tempo, filling in, and giving cues about where to go next in the piece.

Usually, there will be a female solo singer, called a pesindhen, and a chorus, called the gerong. The full personnel complement of our gamelan can be twenty-five to thirty people.

The gamelan lives in the basement of a church in Hyde Park, hence the ugly fluorescent lights. We perform in an upstairs social hall, which means that our pre-show bonding experience is carrying the gamelan up the stairs. This is a major undertaking, because the bronze instruments are heavy and delicate. We own another gamelan, made of iron, that we can take on the road. It's lighter and sturdier, but it doesn't sound as good. If you've heard the Chicago gamelan anywhere other than its home church, you've probably heard the iron instruments.

Does this help?

*Technically speaking, the balungan is not a melody as Westerners understand the term. But that's the subject of at least five scholarly books and several dissertations, and I don't want to get into that right now.
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