By accident, late Friday nights I’ve started going to a gamelan rehearsal/jam session, attended by middle aged Javanese men, one of my foreign friends from ISI, and me. I’m by far the worst gamelan player there and I would have stopped going after the first session except that I’m looking for an extracurricular group to play with.
Overall, though, the rehearsals (although I hesitate to call them rehearsals because we play through each song exactly once) have been pretty humiliating. It’s bad enough that I’m the only girl (not because anything has happened but because it makes me feel like I’m intruding on male bonding time), worse that I’m a foreigner, and even worse that I’m not really at the level of being bale to sight read a piece to near perfection and then move immediately to a new piece.
So, actually, overall it’s pretty frustrating. I get lost easily and have a terrible time finding my way back. I’m also still in the process of learning the typical structure of a gamelan piece, which makes it even easier to get lost since the game plan is usually not explained beforehand. I’m not even very good at finding the correct piece in the big book of gamelan notation that I now own, because of course it’s organized according to some aspect of gamelan theory that I don’t understand yet.
The leader of the gamelan group actually called me stupid last week when I couldn’t find a piece in the book. It wasn’t in a mean way, but I also don’t think he knew I would understand, so I jumped on it and said a lot of sentences in Indonesian mainly amounting to the idea of me being confused and slightly out of my element. That night I was also able to pull out an appropriate response—in formal Javanese—to a question he had directed at me in Javanese. Again, I’m not sure if he expected me to understand. My answer definitely surprised the other men in the group.
At the end of that rehearsal, when I shook the leader’s hand before leaving, he said, “Make sure you keep coming to rehearsals.” I smiled and nodded. They’re intimidating in musical, social, and linguistic ways, but that’s probably a good thing.