Gamelan Nyai Saraswati


An Evening of Central Javanese Music

with Guest Artists

Sumarsam, I.M. Harjito, Midiyanto S. Putra

Sri Hadeni Harjito, Barry Drummond

Martin Hatch and Anne Stebinger

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

The Program

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 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 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.


Gamelan Nyai Saraswati in Chapel Hill

Gamelan Nyai Saraswati arrived in Chapel Hill from Central Java in December of 2000, thanks to the generous support of David and Becky Pardue, Jim Peacock and the University Center for International Studies (UCIS), and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Wrapped in Indonesian newspapers, clove cigarette packing boxes, plastic "raffia" twine, and blackened by three months at sea, a small group of devoted polishers met on a daily basis in January of 2001 to polish and prepare for playing the nearly 70 bronze instruments which comprise Gamelan Nyai Saraswati The instruments of a Central Javanese gamelan are conceived as an ensemble and then forged, cast, and tuned in the workshop of one gong maker. An ensemble is usually named. Prior to its voyage to America, this gamelan was named Gamelan Nyai Saraswati by Bapak Sutina, the renowned performer of shadow puppetry and father of the ensemble’s previous owner, Midiyanto S. Putra, who is performing here with us tonight. The ensemble was cast and forged nearly 20 years ago, long enough for the bronze to stop "shifting" which means that the tuning has settled. The ensemble’s tuning has the highly valued and much sought quality referred to as "manis" or "sweet" in the Javanese language. Gamelan are tuned in two scales – laras pelog and laras slendro – with instruments paired, one in each scale. With the exception of the front row of performers, when the members of the ensemble are facing predominantly out toward the audience, we are playing in laras slendro, when facing in toward the center, we are playing in laras pelog.

After finding temporary housing at the Chapel Hill Museum – thanks to the generosity of Morgan Kenney, Director of the Museum – an informal group of students from a variety of universities and several town’s people began to meet in February of 2001. The group performed an informal concert for friends and the Board of the UCIS in June of 2001. Since then the group has continued to grow, there are now some 23 people involved in learning and performing Central Javanese music.

A Brief Introduction to Gamelan Music

Gamelan is a Javanese/Indonesian word for ensemble. The word "gamel" means to hammer something in Javanese and , indeed, "hammering" or hitting is the way in which most of the different instruments in the ensemble are sounded with the exception of the two stringed instruments – the bowed fiddle (rebab) and the plucked zither (siter) – and the flute (suling), male chorus (gerong) and female soloists (pasindhen). Most of the instruments are made from cast bronze and are in the shape of hanging gongs (gong, kempul) and racked gongs (bonang and kenong) which look like gongs lying on their backs with the boss facing up towards the ceiling. There are metallophones (saron) (like xylophones but made from metal, in this case, bronze polished to a gleaming luster) and drums (kendhang) played with the hands. The drummer and the bowed instrument player are the leaders of the group, one determining melodic transitions and the other determining rhythmic transitions. No single person stands in front of the ensemble and conducts. The musicians must listen and rely on their understanding of what is "usual" in a piece of any particular form and "special" or pamijen in a particular piece in order to play it properly. The music is cyclic, often composed of several different cycles, each of which is repeated an undetermined number of times. Each cycle begins and ends with the stroke of the biggest gong (gong agung) which is, itself, named Nyai Saraswati. The length of individual cycles can be as short as 30 seconds or as long as 20 minutes. As most pieces are composed of several different cycles, each played several times, the duration of pieces can range from a few minutes to more than an hour, rivaling a Mahler or Beethoven Symphony in terms of complexity, movements, and duration.

The late 19th century composer Claude Debussy heard gamelan at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. He was transfixed and spent many days in the Dutch East Indies Pavilion listening to the Indonesian musicians perform. He worked hard to understand the structure and tuning. He later set about composing music inspired by the Javanese music he heard. Some of the other composers who have been inspired by Indonesian gamelan traditions include: Maurice Ravel; Oliver Messiaen; Benjamin Britten; Colin McPhee; Harry Partch; John Cage; Lou Harrison; Peter Sculthorpe; Anne Boyd; Steve Everett; and many contemporary Indonesian composers such as I.M. Harjito; B. Subono; Tony Prabawa; Franki Raden; I Wayan Sadra; and Otok Bima Sidarta.

Western musicians who hear gamelan are struck both by the complexity of the relationships between the melody lines of the different instruments and, if they are aware of the "rules" of western harmony, by the almost "impressionistic" tone clusters that can be heard if the listener hears the music vertically, or tries to interpret it "harmonically".

People without musical training often focus on the melifluousness of the sound and the soothing, meditative quality of some of the music. Others are excited by the multileveled interlockingness of the texture, comparing it to the experience of listening to several, incredibly good jazz solo players improvising together.


Gamelan Nyai Saraswati

Guest Artists

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


Kate Amerikaner
Allen Bell
Adam Cazzolla
Michelle Cronquist
Dan Daniels
Tony Day
Danny Devries
Paul Dionne
John Frick
Syam Gadde
Bob Goldstein
Ethan Lechner
Jeff Macciomei
Florence Peacock
Charles Porter
Erica Rothman
Will Senechal
Christen Sible
Sarah Starnes
Ann-Elise Stidham
Patricia Weigant
Sarah Weiss, Director


Special Thanks

Gamelan Nyai Saraswati would like offer special thanks to David and Becky Pardue, without whom we would not exist, to Jim Peacock and the University Center for International Studies who helped transport the instruments from Java, and also to the College of Arts and Sciences for supporting this project. John Nadas and Jim Ketch, former and present chairs of the Department of Music were generous with their patience and willingness to try something new and different. To the multiple students who have hoisted and polished these instruments more often than they ever imagined possible, thank you. Morgan Kenney and the Board of the Chapel Hill Museum generously took us in and subsequently made Central Javanese gamelan part of Chapel Hill’s history. Roland and Wendy Intrator and the Chapel Hill Moving Company generously helped move us from the Chapel Hill Museum. Thank you to Florence and Jim Peacock for their enormous enthusiasm, and moral support. Thank you also to Erica Rothman who knows alot of people and has alot of good ideas. Thank you to Paul Cole, Martin Fields, David Aron, and George Huntley for all of their help and support. Lastly, thank you to each of the guest artists who has travelled far to perform with an old student. We have much more to learn from all of you.