Fresh from a performance at Crowell Concert Hall in March, Wesleyan’s Indonesian gamelan ensemble took its gongs to the nation’s capital for a pair of rare off-campus appearances.
Led by Adjunct Professor of Music Sumarsam and artist in residence I.M. Harjito, the group performed at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on March 4, and at George Washington University a day later—events that were part of a festival celebrating American composer Lou Harrison (1917–2003). He is widely credited with merging gamelan music and Western concert traditions.
The festival, “Sublime Confluence: The Music of Lou Harrison,” was produced by the Washington-based Post-Classical Ensemble, a group co-founded by Wesleyan Adjunct Professor of Music Angel Gil-Ord&oaigu;ñez.
“Gamelan” refers to several varieties of Indonesian ensemble music performed mainly with metallophone and bronze gong-type instruments played with mallets. Wesleyan is a leading institution in the United States for the study and performance of World Music, including gamelan.
Wesleyan’s ensemble had performed at the Indonesian Embassy at least once before, in the 1970s, according to Sumarsam, who delivered an address during the recent visit about the influence of Westerners on Indonesian music.
“Diplomacy is not necessarily limited to political and economic issues,” says the gamelan master. “It can be cultural as well.”
In all, more than 15 members of Wesleyan’s ensemble went to Washington, including Pramudya Yudhiakto, a graduate student in physics who is currently the only Indonesian in Wesleyan’s ensemble, other than Sumarsam himself.
Wesleyan owns two sets of gamelan instruments, one of which was acquired from the 1964 World’s Fair. The ensemble traveled to Washington in a rented coach with the precious instruments carefully packed and stowed among pillows.