Gamelan Nyai Saraswati

Gamelan Nyai Saraswati is an ensemble of the Department of Music, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


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Group:  Gamelan Nyai Saraswati

Performance: 18 January 2002 "Gamelan Gala"  (other performances:  7 June 2001,  8 December 2001,  20 March 2003,  23 November 2003 ("New Music Concert") ,  7 April 2004 "Molak-Malik" ,  21 November 2004 "World Music Concert" ,  22 April 2005 "World Music Concert" ,  13 November 2005 ,  2 April 2006 "Reinventing Black Mountain" ,  19 November 2006 ,  25 April 2007 "World Music Concert" ,  26 April 2009 "An Evening of Javanese Music and Dance" ,  21 November 2010 "Music in the Galleries" )

Gamelan Nyai Saraswati
An Evening of Central Javanese Music
January 18, 2002, 8:00 PM
Hill Hall
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The publicity machine for Nyai Saraswati's inaugural concert (after two previous unpublicized "private" concerts) apparently worked too well. This concert was part of the William S. Newman series, with the unassuming title of "Gamelan Gala". By concert time (8:00PM) on this chilly night, a very large line of hardy souls stretched around Hill Hall, all trying to get into what was, by now, a sold out concert. Luckily, for some of them, seating/standing room was made available in the rotunda. Thirty minutes (and a brief introduction by music director Sarah Weiss) later, Nyai Saraswati and 7 distinguished guests did their best to live up to the fuss the throng was expecting.

For this concert, we were honored to be joined by

  • Sumarsam, Wesleyan University
  • I.M. Harjito, Wesleyan University
  • Midiyanto S. Putra, Lewis and Clark College
  • Srihadeni Harjito, Wesleyan University
  • Barry Drummond, Tufts University
  • Martin Hatch, Cornell University
  • Anne Stebinger, New York City and Woodstock, NY

Thanks to them for helping to make this concert such a resounding and memorable success!

Available audio files (how do I listen to these recordings?):



Gendhing Bonang TUKUNG


Gendhing Bonang Tukung kethuk 4 kerep, minggah kethuk 8, Laras Pelog, Pathet Barang

This piece features the set of racked gongs called bonang, thus the term gendhing bonang or large-scale piece for bonang. This piece is composed in two sections (cycles or gongan), each with 128 beats between strokes of the large gong. In order to count the beats, one must listen to the metallophone players. This group plays the same basic melody in several different octaves; the melody played by them is called the balungan or skeleton. The relationship of this melody to those played by other instruments is much like that of the skeleton to the rest of the human body -- if the melody is the bones, the bonang, elaborating on the basic melody is like the skin and distinguishing features, while the drums and gong, punctuating arrivals in the cycle as time passes are like the heart and internal organs. In the first section, the drummer settles the ensemble into a slow tempo allowing a focus on the artistry of the bonang player; in the second section (minggah), the tempo and volume gradually increase to the point at which it seems the ensemble cannot play any faster or louder. The drummer then slows the ensemble as we head toward the final gong. Gendhing Bonang are played outside the inner palace walls of Central Java during the celebration of Mohammed's birthday, known as Sekaten. The ensembles used for this festival are much larger than Nyai Saraswati. The metallophone slabs can measure as much as four inches thick. A measure of the desired volume for these sekaten pieces, players may receive a reward from the sultan if they manage to crack one of the slabs with the force of their stroke while performing.



Gendhing Gambirsawit kethuk 2 kerep, minggah kethuk 4, kalajengaken Ladrang Gonjang-Ganjing, Ketawang Subakastawa, Laras Slendro, Pathet Sanga

This piece will begin with a pathetan or ametric mood piece, used to set the correct feeling or rasa for the upcoming gendhing. The pathetan is played by the soft-style elaborating instruments which will be featured in the gendhing itself. The introduction to the piece will be a solo male vocal piece called a bawa. The particular melody and words for the bawa are determined by the singer just before he sings. This gendhing is a favorite of Central Javanese musicians and often is played during gatherings (klenengan) in which musicians play music simply for their own and the enjoyment of others. The bowed-fiddle, the gender (14-keyed metallophone), and the male and female singers are featured in this piece. In the second section the drummer will change drums and begin an intricate style of playing called ciblonan, an onomatopoeic term in Javanese describing the sound of hands playing on the top of water. Whenever the drum is playing in this style, the bonang players use an interlocking pattern with intermittent melodic flourishes called flowerings or kembangan. The suite of pieces moves from longer to shorter cycles, the ladrang has only 32 beats per cycle and the ketawang only 16. After the end of the ketawang another pathetan is used to ease the transition from sound to silence and then everyday communication.



Gendhing Erang-erang Bagelan kethuk 2 kerep, minggah Ladrang Opak-Apem, Laras Pelog, Pathet Nem

After a mood setting pathetan, this lively piece, whose title means to jokingly warn someone, sets off at a spritely tempo. In the second section the drummer switches to ciblonan drumming and the basic melody moves at twice the usual tempo. The name of the second section refers to two types of sweet cakes, the first a wafer cookie and the second a rice fritter.

Langgam WUYUNG


Langgam Wuyung Laras Pelog, Pathet Nem

The history of langgam is closely linked to that of kroncong, an Indonesian song style with Portuguese influence and a history dating back to the 17th century. Kroncong was made popular and national in the 1930's and has experienced periods of renewed interest to the present day. Kroncong orchestras are string-based, using ukuleles, mandolins, slide guitar, guitars, cellos, violins, with the occasional flute or clarinet. The ensemble accompanies a singer, who croons his or her way through a familiar AABA song structure based in western harmony. A "modern" music associated with Indonesian nationalism in the 1940's and 50's, kroncong was subsequently Javanized, reorganized so that the same melodies could be played on a gamelan orchestra, and renamed langgam. The word wuyung refers to both sadness and infatuation or longing.

Gendhing LOBONG mg. KINANTI kal. Ladrang KEMBANG PEPE


Gendhing Lobong kethuk 2 kerep, minggah Kinanti, kalajengaken Ladrang Kembang Pepe, Laras Slendro, Pathet Manyura

We will use a pathetan to begin this suite to help the musicians change scale and mode. This piece has a first section composed of two different melodic cycles. In the second of these cycles, the drummer instructs the ensemble to stop twice for brief musical comments by a female vocalist. The second and third sections of the piece feature a large mixed chorus.

Director: Daniel Guberman (email:
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