Gamelan Semara Winangun

Balinese Gamelan in Ottawa, Canada

January 3, 2014

A Look Back

Filed under: Guest Posts — webmaster @ 11:57 am

Happy New Year to all! As we look back on our 10th anniversary year, as well as the 60th anniversary of Indonesia-Canada diplomatic relations, this guest post seems very appropriate. Thanks for sharing Jamie!

By Jamie Gullikson

My first trip to Indonesia was a life-changing experience. Trying to escape the Ottawa winter, my wife and I traveled to Bali on a friend’s recommendation. “Everyone in Indonesia loves music”, he said. Certainly, music seemed to be everywhere: in grand and colourful parades and ceremonies, in restaurants, outdoor rehearsals, and performances. What struck me immediately upon seeing a gamelan actually play, was that this was a true group experience, with every instrument being of equal importance. There were no solos or even solo instruments; they weren’t necessary to the music. The music itself seemed perfect and complete, and was virtuosically played by men who stared absently into space, almost as if they were thinking of something else. As a Western musician, I was mystified. That same trip I read Canadian composer Colin McPhee’s marvelous book “A House in Bali”. His wonderful, thoughtful descriptions of the music, musicians, and country in the 1930s totally captivated me, and I returned to Canada with a small pile of cassettes which I listened to constantly, trying to understand or at least become accustomed to this rich music.

It was unbelievable luck that, a little over a year later, a Balinese pelegongan group was being formed just an hour from where I live. The Indonesian Embassy in Ottawa had agreed to house the instruments and graciously allowed us to begin practicing there, and we’ve been there almost every Tuesday evening since. In that time, we’ve managed to build a repertoire based on workshops with visiting teachers, individual studies in Indonesia, and from original arrangements and compositions. None of this would have been possible without the support of the Indonesian Embassy and the local Indonesian community. From their interest and patience, we’ve been able to improve as a group, and have been afforded many opportunities to perform. Being asked to participate in several of the Asian Heritage Month gala events has been a real thrill for us, as has been working with talented dancer/choreographer/musician Eko Nurcahyo to prepare for these shows. We were also very honoured to have been asked to perform for the 2005 Tsunami Relief Benefit Concert. Three people from our group were in Indonesia at the time of the tsunami, and arrived home just days before the concert. Needless to say it was a very emotional event.

In the past ten years we’ve performed a “live soundtrack” to a classic Balinese silent movie, played with jazz musicians, African drummers and dancers, as well as a classical choir. We’ve played in museums, churches, tents, bars, on a bridge, on parking lots and lawns. It has been the best ten years of my life, musically and otherwise. I’m very lucky to be a part of a group made up of the nicest people, whose dedication to Indonesian music is inspiring. And we, as a group, are very happy to be in a position where we can “give back” to the Indonesian Embassy and community by being able to perform at various cultural, diplomatic, or just-plain-fun events. It is this kind of “friendship beyond borders” that has made the group what it is today.

There will always be new challenges in playing gamelan, and there will always be room for improvements. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why we enjoy playing this music so much. The adventure is simply in getting there. I look forward to the challenges and improvements that the next ten years will surely bring, and I look forward to our ever-growing friendship with the Indonesian community.

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