Gamelen brings world music to Pitt

By by Jordan Streussnig

‘ ‘ ‘ This weekend, Pitt’s Gamelan Ensemble is asking Pitt students to think outside the… ‘ ‘ ‘ This weekend, Pitt’s Gamelan Ensemble is asking Pitt students to think outside the boombox and experience what percussion instruments from the other side of the globe have to offer. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The music is quite different from the stuff we’re used to hearing here on the Western side of the world, so it’s rather refreshing,’ said long-time gamelan musician and ensemble member Valery Pinchuk. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The goal is to expose players and audiences to a musical style that’s mostly neglected in mainstream America. For example, my spell check thinks gamelan isn’t even a word,’ said musician Rob Sheaff. ‘ ‘ ‘ Gamelan music originates from the island of Java in Indonesia, located above the Western side of Australia, according to the Pitt music department’s Web site. This musical style is created by a group of instruments called a gamelan, which is made up of metal-keyed instruments and tuned gongs. ‘ ‘ ‘ The music is played in its native land as accompaniment to theatrical shows, dance, puppet shows, martial arts and in concerts, and it is often played to distinguish important life events. ‘ ‘ ‘ Each instrument in a particular gamelan is tuned specifically to each of the others, making it nearly impossible to interchange instruments between gamelans. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It’s interesting to think about how different this style is from the classical European musical culture,’ said Pinchuk. ‘While players might come and go, the gamelan will, hopefully, always stay together.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ The Gamelan Ensemble is actually a class, worth one credit, that any student can take, according to TA Benjamin Pachter, who started with the group last spring. It is taught by ethnomusicologist Andrew Weintraub and Indonesian graduate student, Indra Ridwan. ‘ ‘ ‘ The class strives to instill in students values of the Sundanese ‘ ‘ ‘ Sheaff stressed his enjoyment of the ‘friendly group setting’ provided to him by the ensemble. ‘No one player is particularly important. Contributions are equally valuable from everyone, which is always much more fun,’ he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ While some members of the ensemble particularly enjoy the atmosphere of community, others simply see it as a welcome reprieve from a busy day. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘You come from biochemistry or logic class, and you want to do something that doesn’t require a lot of thinking and is meditative,’ said Hellmann. ‘Playing gamelan is something that feels natural, just using the instruments to make something euphonic.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ The ensemble’s gamelan came to Pitt from Indonesia in 1995, according to the department Web site and is named Kyai Tirta Rukmi, or ‘Venerable Rivers of Gold.’ This set is actually made of two subsets, each of which is tuned differently. In sum, the group typically plays 10 to 15 instruments, according to Hellmann. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Each instrument brings something unique and wonderful to the group’s overall sound,’ said Pinchuk. ‘ ‘ ‘ Pinchuk described her experience in the group as positive. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I’ve come to practice in a terrible mood and left feeling like a completely different person. The music is like magic, capable of giving the listener a sort of spiritual scrub-down,’ she said. ‘ ‘ ‘ The upcoming performance will not only feature the transformative music of Indonesia, but some of its most famous faces will be present, as well. ‘ ‘ ‘ The show is part of an annual event called the University Artists-in-Residence Program, according to Weintraub, who created the program in 2002. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It’s important for students to have a vast knowledge of the world. Playing music from other countries gives them exposure and experience with other cultures,’ he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ Each year, musicians and performers from Indonesia are invited to participate in various events including lectures, workshops and concerts. ‘ ‘ ‘ This year, Wahyu Roche, a virtuoso percussionist, and Ening Rumbini, a practitioner of a popular style of dance that includes martial arts and village dance elements, will perform with the Pitt Ensemble, according to the press release. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The dancing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,’ said Hellmann. ‘It’s awesome to watch and makes me want to learn.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ The performances will begin at 8 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday and are free for Pitt students. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I think it’s really fortunate that Pittsburgh has a gamelan ensemble at all and can only hope that everyone is lucky enough to see it at least once,’ said Pinchuk. ‘