At 7:30 PM the stage was lit up exposing an array of percussion instruments, that when played interlock, creating complex waves of sound that often imitate organic noises found in nature. The traditional Balinese music ensemble on stage, known as Gamelan Tunas Mekar, consists of 18 local musicians, one third of which are either staff or alumni from DU. The June Swaner Gates Concert Hall at the University of Denver was packed, holding around 480 people who had gathered to watch “High Arts Asia; Music and Dance of Bali.” The concert was hosted by the Lamont School of Music on Thursday, Feb. 2.
Gamelan sits at the center of Balinese culture, having a wide range of purposes from religious rituals and ceremonies to local and tourist entertainment. The instruments that make up a Gamelan include gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, xylophones, cymbals, drums, and flutes that are primarily made out of bamboo, hardwood and bronze. This grouping of instruments are frequently accompanied by other forms of performance, such as dance, to help depict a story to the audience.
In 1990, Tunas Mekar became the second American Gamelan to be invited by the governor of Bali to perform at the annual Bali Arts Festival held in their capital city of Denpasar. This honor portrays their immense success as authentic performers, recognized both nationally and globally. Even though these achievements grant them prestige, it is no surprise that they would give a free performance at DU, considering the many ties the Gamelan has to the University.
In fact, students are provided the opportunity to study Gamelan in offered classes, such as an undergraduate AI Society course, “Music, Society and Culture,” taught by Aaron Paige, a three year long member of Tunas Mekar. One of his previous students, Rhianna Fairchild, who graduated in 2016, is an example of how classes such as Paige’s prove to be extremely beneficial for those who desire to find such a musical oriented community. She stated, “joining Gamelan Tunas Mekar has easily been the single most fulfilling and rewarding musical experience that I’ve had. Within this group I have found what I sought before, the unity of an ensemble that works towards artistic growth and integrity, as well as a community that welcomed me graciously.”
The performance kicked off with three compositions titled, “Baleganjur,” “Tari Sekar Jepun,” and “Jagra Parwata.” This was followed by a thorough breakdown of Gamelan, which helped to educate the audience on the instruments, their roles, the ways they are layered, and the overall cultural significance.
Here it was explained that a Gamelan is referred to as a single instrument, being made up of different parts that carry less significance if separated, but together create a powerful whole. This demonstrates the extreme importance of community and relationships in a Gamelan, as well as Balinese culture. Jordan Hayes, a performer and former Assistant Facilities Manager at the Lamont School of Music, elaborated on this; “the musical intimacy amongst the musicians in the gamelan bleeds into our relationships outside of gamelan as well; perhaps more than anything, we’re friends in the deepest sense.”
After a brief intermission, the performance was concluded with the compositions, “Tari Teruna Jaya,” “Liar Samas,” and “Tari Barong.”
This performance not only served the community but it also deepened the appreciation the performers have for what they have become apart of as a Gamelan. Joseph Engle, who earned his Masters in Music at DU back in 2015, reflected saying, “Preparing this concert has been one of the most difficult and rewarding musical endeavors of my life. Seeing everyone’s efforts come to fruition, and knowing I’ve been a part of those efforts, that goal, is inspiring and humbling all at once. On that stage I felt alive, and if any music is truly living, it is this one.”
Tunas Mekar have several upcoming concerts and events. Information can be found on their website; http://tunasmekar.org/concert-schedule
The photo bellow was taken of the performance by Miranda Fan.