Founded in 1997, Gamelan Semara Santi is the Philadelphia area's only Gamelan (Indonesian percussion orchestra) devoted entirely to performance of traditional compositions from Bali, Indonesia. We perform twice a year on the campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. All of our performances include both music and dance, as is typical in Bali. Some of our noteworthy activities include:
The musicians and dancers of Gamelan Semara Santi are students, faculty, staff, and friends from the extended community of Swarthmore College. We rehearse as musicians in Indonesia do: we listen to one another and play by ear and by touch, without music notation. All of the notes and rhythms are precomposed and have been memorized. There is little room for improvisation in Balinese music.
The instruments of Gamelan Semara Santi were built in 1997 by I Wayan Beratha, a leading instrument maker, composer, performer, and teacher in Bali, Indonesia. Gamelan Semara Santi takes its name from Semar, the god of love, and Santi, the Sanskrit word for peace, to honor the peace-loving Quaker traditions of Swarthmore College.
The word Gamelan, derived from a Javanese term for striking a percussion instrument, refers collectively to a set of musical instruments and, by extension, to the people who play them. Balinese Gamelan is perhaps best understood as a community undertaking. There are no soloists; each member of the ensemble contributes a small, yet necessary, component of the whole. The texture is organized according to the size of each instrument: the smaller an instrument is, the more frequently it plays. Thus, the high pitched, fast-moving ornamental layer is played by the reyong (small knob-gongs mounted horizontally) and gangsas (small bronze-keyed xylophones); the primary melody is both slower and lower- pitched, played by the ugal or gendér (medium xylophones); every second, fourth, or eighth tone of the primary melody is played in a lower octave by the ugal and jegogan (large xylophones); and the texture is punctuated by the suspended gongs, the largest of which plays only once per cycle. The largest gong is considered the spiritual center of the gamelan. Drummers direct the ensemble.
If you would like more information about Balinese Gamelan, an excellent resource is Michael Tenzer's book, Balinese Music (1991: Periplus Editions)
Click here for a useful directory of Gamelan groups outside Indonesia.
For more information about the Music and Dance Department at Swarthmore College click here.
Click here for more information about Asian Studies at Swarthmore College.
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