Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Who put the Gam in the Gamelan-a-ding-dong?

To Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow last Wednesday for a "Gamelan Taster Workshop". Actually first I went to Gartnaval Hospital, which is next door and connected, but not so connected that the building I was looking for appeared on any maps at the latter. Nor did the first staff member I asked know where it was, though he helpfully told me someone else had just asked, so by looking for somebody with a lost and confused air I joined up with Kate and we eventually found it together.

The workshop was run by Signy Jakobsdottir from Gamelan Naga Mas. She started out by explaining about Indonesian gamelan music, telling us that the instruments we had we from Java and had been commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council back when Glasgow was European City of Culture. There are two kinds of gamelan, based on the two Indonesian musical scales pelog and slendro. Both kinds were commissioned, but for some reason they have always been kept apart rather than being combined as they would normally be in Java. The pelog instrument lives at Gartnaval and is used by Naga Mas (also for music therapy with dementia patients) while the slendro set is in East Kilbride, forty-odd miles away, where it's also used for therapy.

Anyway, we learned about the different instruments, how to strike them and what roles the played in the ensemble. Then we tried them out. We learned played three or four short pieces, and rotated around so that anyone who wished to could have a go on everything. I can't remember the Javanese names, but there were big cup-shaped hanging gongs, elegant and slightly domed bronze chime bar sets, rather lighter tinny metal bars with big wooden or plastic resonators underneath, horizontal arrays of little gongs (which is what I always visualised when I pictured a gamelan), and a big double-ended hand-drum with which Signy led us. It was all terrific fun and I was sorry when the two hours were up.

Naga Mas are always on the lookout for new members, and if I lived in Glasgow I wouldn't have hesitated (one night a week for rehearsing). But as I live in Edinburgh and have another regular musical commitemnt as well as a full-time job, that will have to wait until I retire.

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