UMBC’s Gamelan Ensemble

Published: Jan 1, 1970

When learning to play an instrument, you have to jump right in. This is what I learned when I recently stopped by one of the rehearsals for UMBC’s student Gamelan ensemble taught by Professor Gina Beck. The Gamelan is an Indonesian instrument made up of separate parts all contributing to its warm, relaxing sound. The saron, bonang, gong, and kendang, for example, are some of the different instruments used in an ensemble.

UMBC’s Gamelan course is offered every semester and is made up students from a diverse set of majors. Anyone is welcome to take the course for credit, even non-music majors. Tyler Whittenburg ’20, Asian Studies, says, “there’s different instruments with different levels of skill required to play, so the sarons in the middle are what everybody starts off playing.” I even got a chance to play the sarons when I stopped by Professor Beck’s Gamelan workshop (separate from the UMBC ensemble). “Take your shoes off and find a spot to jump right in,” she invited; it is very important to make yourself comfortable while playing. With no prior experience, I sat to play one of the sarons, an instrument traditionally made up of seven bronze metal keys that provides the melody for the whole ensemble. The keys are all numbered and mounted onto a decorative wooden frame. In order to play, one hits the numbered keys with a tabuh, or hammer, and follows the numbered pattern for the melody.

The professor counted us off, and I, along with the other saron players, hit the numbered keys according to the given pattern “6-3-6-3-6-3-6-3-5-6-3-6-3-6-3-5-3-2-1-3-2-1-6-5-3-2-1-3-2-1-6-3” and so forth. I was proud of myself for catching on to my instrument quickly, but some of the other instruments are more challenging. More rhythmically inclined students, for example, would likely be matched with the bonang instrument, two rows of “pots” placed within a wooden frame. The bonang is more complex than the saron as it is an elaborating instrument used to add color to the melody.

UMBC’s fall ensemble has been rehearsing all semester long for their upcoming concert in December. The Gamelan is truly a beautiful instrument, and its inclusion as one of UMBC’s courses and student concerts exemplifies this university’s commitment to a diversified academic experience.

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