Jeanette Tjoeng conducted a workshop about the origin and contemporary direction of ‘Gamelan’ musical ensemble from the ‘BronzAge Gamelan group’ which participated in the Hyderabad Literary Festival recently.
“I was first introduced to the ‘Gamelan’ during my first year of study at Lasalle College of the arts in 2008 and learned the art of playing the ‘Bonang’ musical instrument under Joyce Teo and Sujarwo Prehatin,” says Jeanette Tjoeng.
She says, “We got inspired to form the group ‘BronzAge Gamelan’ in 2009. There are a few similarities in ‘Gamelan’ and other forms of music. If I were to compare it with a Western pop band, the ‘Bonang’ instrument which does the accompaniment, could be compared to the piano in this arrangement. ‘Peking’ and ‘Sarons’ form the melody and could perhaps be similar to Western instruments such as the flute, violin, etc. The ‘Gongs’ play low-sounding notes and are similar to the function of a bass player.
The different melodic lines played by the different instruments in the ensemble are all equally important. The different parts blend in together to contribute to an overall melody unlike in Western music where sometimes an instrument takes the spotlight. Besides comparing the roles of each instrument, another similarity is the use of the ‘Slendro’ scale. This scale is similar to the ‘Pentatonic’ scale which is typically used in Chinese music.
“There are many children who are learning this form of music in our country. I teach the ‘Gamelan’ at Tanglin Trust Junior School to children between seven and 11 years of age.”
— The writer is a musician, creator of ‘Jaywant Guitar’ and a freelance photographer