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Gamelan ensemble brings Indonesian music into the Mills community

In Indonesia, gamelan ensembles perform in conjunction with
religious ceremonies. Ideas for compositions come from religious
figures and activities, and then are played by large groups of
musicians for villagers and sometimes for tourists.

On Sept. 19, the Mills Gamelan Ensemble performed for a slightly
different audience: alumni, students, parents, and faculty who
attended Convocation.

The 22 member ensemble played at the beginning and at the end of

“What other school would have a gamelan ensemble perform at its
Convocation ceremony?” asked Shayna Dunkelman, a freshwoman who
played the Reyong in the gamelan ensemble during Convocation. “It
was so funny and neat.”

The ensemble is comprised of approximately 20 different
instruments. Probably the most well-known instrument in a gamelan
ensemble is the Gong – a bronze, circular instrument the musician
strikes with a mallet to achieve one of three possible low tones.
The gong punctuates musical phrases, playing to signify the
beginning and end of music cycles.

Other instruments include the reyong, a xylophone-like
instrument in which players sit side-by-side and play three notes
each. These divided patterns are strung together, as one musician
picks up where the other left off, to a create one rhythmic
pattern. The kempli is a circular instrument made of bronze that
sits on top of a stand, on the ground. To make a sound on a kempli,
the musician must strike a knob, located on top of the instrument
that emits one tone. The kempli keeps the rhythm, in any music that
an ensemble plays.

Nyoman Windha is the director of the gamelan ensemble and a
graduate student in Music Composition at Mills. He has been
composing music for gamelan since 1983. Windha, who came to the Bay
area from Bali, explained that at a very young age, Balinese
children learn how to dance and play music, because both art forms
are so closely tied into religious ceremonies.

“Balinese people teach kids how to play music, like parents in
America teach their kids how to play baseball,” Windha said. As a
result, Windha began playing music at the age of six. However, he
is the first person in his family to take an interest in playing
and creating music professionally.

“I came to the United States to learn more about the American
composers and how they work. I wanted to gain more experience and
learn how to develop music in Bali,” he said.

As director of the gamelan ensemble, Windha teaches students to
play a simple melody and develop technique, such as how to mute an
instrument, or how to strike the gong.

“I have to find my own way how to teach Americans-music students
in the United States want a certain part, something very clear cut
that they can play. In Bali, it’s more free-form, with a lot of
improvisation,” Windha explained.

Banjar are communities that can include two hundred people who
work together to create the music for religious ceremonies. There
are many banjar in Bali, and every banjar has at least one

“We have to learn a dance or create new music for a religious
ceremony and from there a banjar is formed,” Windha said.

In contrast, when Windha came to the United States, he noticed
that communities are much more individualized. ‘You don’t know the
people in the house down the street. In Bali, we all talk outside
together and everyone knows everyone,” he said.

While studying at Mills and working on his skills in
composition, Windha is also the guest music director of Sekar Jaya,
an American Balinese gamelan. Part of Windha’s decision to come
study in the Bay area was the opportunity he would have to work
with Sekar Jaya. The gamelan has been together for 25 years and
comprise of mostly American musicians and composers.

While in Bali, Windha taught at the Art Institute of Indonesia.
The school agreed to send him to the United States to study
composition and attain his master’s degree.

“I think I made a good choice to study here,” Windha said. “I
have to be me, and I wouldn’t want to go to a school where they
would tell me to be something else. I had also heard that Mills is
very good with new and contemporary music.”

Not only has living in the United States been an adjustment for
Windha, but also for his family. Windha’s wife, Gusti Agung Ayu
Warsiki, is currently teaching dance at Sekar Jaya.

Windha’s two sons, Agus Cahyadi and Wahyu Indira, are enrolled
in local schools. Wahyu Indira is studying at Vista College in
Berkeley, and will stay for his bachelor’s degree. Agus Cahyadi is
in eleventh grade. Both play gamelan music, as well as guitar and
drums in rock n’ roll groups. Windha, his wife, and his younger son
will return to Bali in 2005, after Windha has attained his masters
degree. Wahyu Indira will follow, after graduating from Vista

Windha hopes to hold a concert for the gamelan ensemble at the
end of every semester. This semester, Windha will perform with the
gamelan on November 24, at 12:30, in the Concert Hall.

Already, Windha is excited about the possibilities for next
semester. Last semester, the gamelan featured seven musicians. This
fall it is comprised of 22.

With all of the knowledge and experience Windha has gained since
he started at Mills, he is looking forward to bringing new methods
and teaching styles to students in Bali.

“Every teacher has his own way to teach not just the material of
the class, but also how he teaches,” Windha said. “That is a lot to
bring to Bali.”