On Sunday, April 19 at 7:30 pm, the University of Wisconsin Javanese GamelanEnsemble presents: “PUSÅKÅ [HEIRLOOM]” the group’s 39th annual Spring Concert in Mills Music Hall, 455 N. Park St. This concert will be free and open to the public.
Under the direction of UW doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology Steve Laronga, the group will play a wide range of classical and popular repertory--music most often played in Java
for the purpose of enlivening social festivities, or sometimes as an occasion for a lively gathering of musicians and enthusiasts. In keeping with this convivial spirit, the Badger gamelan musicians will be joined on stage this year by several friends from Chicago’s Friends of the Gamelan performing ensemble.
The University of Wisconsin School of Music acquired its Javanese gamelan in 1976 through the initiative of retired Professor of Music Lois Anderson, who continues to play in the gamelan as one of the group’s most active members today. This handmade set of over fifty instruments, most of which produce sound through the striking of tuned bronze keys or gongs, was already at least a few decades old--a positive attribute in a gamelan, since it takes many years for its tuning to fully stabilize--when it was purchased from a private owner in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.
In 1978, while directing the UW Gamelan Ensemble as a visiting artist, the legendary musician and composer K.P.H. Natapraja (better known at the time as Ki Cokrowasito) bestowed an honorific title and name upon the University of Wisconsin gamelan. In dubbing the set of instruments Kyai Telaga Rukmi [The Venerable Lake of Gold], he effectively elevated the status of the gamelan to that of a University of Wisconsin heirloom. The name reportedly came to him while watching a summer sunset from the Memorial Union Terrace, and may thus be taken as an expression of Natapraja’s vision for an enduring bond between the instruments, the University of Wisconsin, and the beauty--both natural and cultivated--of the surrounding environment.
Led by Professor R. Anderson Sutton from 1981 until his 2013 retirement from the School of Music faculty, the UW Javanese Gamelan program provided extensive hands-on experience
in Javanese music to thousands of UW students and community participants. Prof. Sutton, a world-renowned expert on Indonesian musics of many stripes, brought dozens of world class musicians and performing artists to teach and to play alongside the students in many public concerts in Madison and around Wisconsin over the years.
Since 2013, Mr. Laronga has taught the UW Javanese Gamelan Ensemble on an interim basis while wrapping up his doctoral studies. Taking a particular interest in the gamelan music styles of the bustling East Javanese port city of Surabaya, he seeks to introduce students and audiences to an often dazzlingly vital repertory that is rarely heard outside its own region, while also maintaining the ensemble’s focus on the more widely known Central Javanese court music traditions. This kind of a split attention to local and supraregional repertory approximates the actual practices of many gamelan ensembles around Surabaya today, and distinguishes the sound of the University of Wisconsin Javanese Gamelan Ensemble from that of any other gamelan ensemble in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the UW Javanese Gamelan Ensemble will go on a hiatus of uncertain length this fall for the first time since the gamelan arrived in Madison nearly 40 years ago. Following upon Prof. Sutton’s retirement, the School of Music has not yet had the opportunity to hire a qualified permanent faculty member with appropriate interests and background to oversee the ensemble. Javanese gamelan performance has continued to be offered as a course for the past two years through a cooperative effort by the School of Music and the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. However, due to increasingly tight budget constraints, it will not be possible to continually hire non-faculty instructors to direct the ensemble unless additional sources of funding can be
The School of Music and Center for Southeast Asian Studies continue to seek a long term solution so that Kyai Telaga Madu will continue to resound through the halls of the UW School of Music. In the meanwhile, current members of the group and the School of Music hope to keep the gamelan active—albeit at a lower level of intensity--as a student organization in 2015-16. In addition, an 8-week Javanese gamelan course will continue to be offered as part of the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute intensive language program, which the UW-Madison Center for Southeast Asian Studies hosts annually.
In short, it will probably be at least few years before the University of Wisconsin Javanese
Gamelan Ensemble will be able to put on a show on the scale of the one planned for April
19. Please join us that night in celebrating 39 years of Javanese music at the University of Wisconsin!
For more information on the concert, or on the future of the gamelan --please contact:
Steve Laronga email@example.com, Prof. Lois Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org, The UW School of Music email@example.com