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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Gamelan dance introduces new aesthetic

By Darwin Manning

Grinnell showcased the only gamelan group in Iowa last weekend in a semesterly concert that featured the Grinnell College Music and Dance Ensemble and several guest dancers and musicians.
The show was at 1 p.m. on Saturday and correlated with the showcase of talents as part of the inauguration day. The show transported the audience to an entirely different place through the dancing of two traditionally-costumed Javanese dance performers and several instruments which were well hidden in the depths of the World Music room.
Gamelan is a musical ensemble, whose style originated from Indonesia, typically the islands of Bali and Java. The form uses an array of instruments, which this performance displayed some of, including metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs. Throughout the different pieces, an array of dancers with customary attire moved and acted in response to the music.
This is the second of two performances that the group holds with the first coming at the end of the fall semester. This first performance took place in the World Music room and director of music Professor Roger Vetter frames it as an open rehearsal. The songs were chosen by Professor Vetter and his wife Val Vetter, coordinator of the Peace Studies Program.
“My job is to work with my co-director my wife (who dances), to pick several songs, and negotiate which songs to choose,” Vetter said.
The group is open to the entire campus and new members are always welcome. According to Vetter, this makes for an ongoing challenge to teach students with different levels of experience. Some semesters he has had both newcomers and people who have been working with him for four to six semesters. Though the goal is always the same and this is to get students excited about what for many is a brand new form of music and dance.
“We try to get more people to learn about the musical tradition and get them to appreciate this type of music,” Vetter said.
The show began with the piece, “Ladrang Babar Layar,” which is a song typical to the beginning of a gamelan show meaning “unfurled sail.” The concert than turned to “Ketawang Ganda Mastuti” (fragrance of worship), “Lancaran Ampyak” (swarm) and “Gangsaran.” The latter piece encompassed two combatants donning traditional attire and entering to their own melodies, which are then played simultaneously as they clash in battle.
Additionally, there was a medley of pieces extracted from an accompaniment for solo dance choreography. Finally, the show ended with “Tedhak Saking” (to leave the court), which is a musical signal that an event has ended it is time for the audience to leave.
The Javanese Music and Dance Ensemble introduces a break from the rest of musical groups at Grinnell, which are often products of western cultural formation. For many students this is equivalent to taking a foreign language, except from a musical perspective. Vetter and his wife hope students will realize how our culture is structured differently and question how our thoughts are arranged.
“It can’t help but make you more aware of your music that you are socialized into and how it works and why you appreciate it,” Vetter said.

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