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Gamelan Semara Santi's Spring 2024 Performance

Gamelan Semari Santi after their Fall '23 performance

On Sunday, April 7, 2024 at 3PM, Swarthmore’s Gamelan Semara Santi will perform their spring concert at the Lang Concert Hall. A community-based form of music from Indonesia, Swarthmore’s Gamelan ensemble is composed of students and community members. They use instruments made in Bali, Indonesia that are mostly percussive and consist of suspended gongs, small gongs, and racks with mounted metal plates. Co-director of the ensemble, Professor Tom Whitman ‘82, compared them to vibraphones, saying that, “they are melody instruments with bronze keys and bamboo resonators.” Additionally, the ensemble will feature drums and a student playing a suling (bamboo flute). 

There is no traditional conductor for Gamelan. Instead, the music centers around the ensemble. The percussive melodies often lead back into themselves, forming cyclical melodic lines that intertwine with the diverse instruments’ textures. Music is a major component of daily life in Bali and gamelan is played at celebrations, feasts, and during daily activities.  Dance is an important part of the gamelan tradition, and each year dancers from the Indonesian Cultural Club of Delaware (ICCD) perform with Gamelan Semari Santi. 

This semester the ICCD, along with three Swarthmore student dancers, will dance during a piece created by I Wayan Rai — also called Pak Rai — and his wife, I Gusti Ayu Srinatih. Originally from Bali, they both had a residency at Swarthmore in the 90s and worked with Whitman and the college to create the Gamelan ensemble. When Whitman heard of Pak Rai’s passing this past January, he knew Gamelan Semara Santi had to play the piece, titled Rerejangan Selat Segara. Several other songs in the repertoire were learned by ensemble members during their recent trip to Bali, such as Baleganjur (a traditional Gamelan piece taught by Dewa Putu Berata), Penganteb (a style of Gamelan from North Bali called Gamelan Sekatian) and Tabuh Rejang Lente (an ancient form of Gamelan). 

Pursuing global studies and biology, Slate Hyacinthe ‘24 joined Gamelan to fulfill an ensemble requirement to take private vocal lessons at Swarthmore. They reflected on the recent trip to Bali and how having five instructors for ten students during the trip allowed for greater one-on-one instruction. Hyacinthe said, “The experience of being in Bali made me feel so confident . . . I’m now able to be a leader in the ensemble in a way I didn’t feel like before.” 

Tim Jiang ‘25 also traveled to Bali with the group. Majoring in engineering and history, he’s been with Gamelan since his sophomore year. He drew parallels between gamelan here and in Bali, but noted one important distinction about the location of performances. He said, “It’s an open space [in Bali] . . . I would say it's more interaction with the outside world, like the spiritual world, while here it’s more enclosed and artificial.” Jiang is determined to retain lessons from Bali,  saying, “I felt pretty motivated to keep what we had learned and bring it back [to Swarthmore].” A similar message from both students was that the Bali trip gave them confidence in their abilities and exposed them to the context and culture of gamelan. Their excitement to share these experiences with the rest of the ensemble was palpable and will be something to behold at their upcoming performance.

A common theme among the ensemble members is togetherness. Gamelan is music that exemplifies the unique sound of an ensemble and the power it brings to the performers and community. Gamelan Semara Santi fully embraces that idea, bringing what they learned from Bali to Swarthmore. Their performance is on Sunday, April 7 at 3PM in Lang Concert Hall and is free and open to the public.