Gamelan Updates

Peking has suddenly become massively, insanely harder. We’re moving on to learning more complicated material, which means that some of my flaws are becoming increasingly more pronounced.

* * *

Flaw #1: The kendhang is meaningless to me.

The kendhang is the drum or sets of drums in the gamelan ensemble. It functions as the conductor, leading the group through tempo changes and in and out of different sections of the piece. I rarely listen to it, and when I do it’s by accident and the only thing I learn is that I’m still on the beat.

This is most definitely not enough. At the very least, I should be hearing different patterns so that I know when to switch to another section of the piece. Instead, I just switch when everyone else does, which leads to problem two.

Flaw #2: I can’t count.

My ballet teacher has been telling me this since the time I first joined his school. Maybe some people have the innate ability to count along with doing other things, but I rarely find myself actually counting. I prefer to go by feel, which can usually get me through a ballet class or an orchestra piece. Not so with gamelan, when the whole point is that I’m trying to figure out a way to feel and understand it.

This means that every time we switch to a new section of a piece, I get lost. Gamelan music is composed of tempo changes, but when it gets slower there are actually more notes, so it can sound faster. These are also the places where the peking really breaks from the sarons, so I have no one to follow. I suddenly have tons of notes to play, and since I haven’t been counting, I don’t know where I am or how fast I should be playing.

Flaw #3: I can’t come back once I get lost.

Being able to find where you are in the music is an important skill for an orchestral player to have. Give me a violin and sheet music and I’ll have no problem with this. Give me a peking and a series of numbers written out on a white board and you will have the pleasure of watching me flounder around aimlessly. Forever.

This goes back to not understanding gamelan music, I think. When I get lost, I’ll sit there and listen and I have no clue as to where we are or how to come back. All the music around me is utterly meaningless.

* * *

So, basically, playing any complicated piece goes like this: start out with everyone else, get to the first tempo change, get lost, get found again when someone comes and sits next to me and starts pointing to where we are in the music. During a recent rehearsal, one of my friends almost literally held my hand through the whole piece. Which is really not how things should be.

Practicing also hasn’t helped, at least so far. Last rehearsal, I showed up early so that I could play through songs on my own. I got better at reading the music, but it didn’t help with the transitions at all, which is what I’m struggling with right now. At this point, I’m not really sure what to do except keep going to rehearsals. So I guess that’s what I’m going to do.


One thought on “Gamelan Updates

  1. Good Luck – reminds me of me trying to learn the cello. I can count but am tone deaf! We received your post card today – what adventures you are having! love, aunt carol

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