Gamelan Nyai Saraswati arrived in Chapel Hill from Central Java in December of 2000, thanks to the generous support of David and Becky Pardue, Jim Peacock and the University Center for International Studies (UCIS), and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Wrapped in Indonesian newspapers, clove cigarette packing boxes, plastic
"raffia" twine, and blackened by three months at sea, a small group of devoted polishers met on a daily basis in January of 2001 to polish and prepare for playing the nearly 70 bronze instruments which comprise Gamelan Nyai Saraswati. The instruments of a Central Javanese gamelan are conceived as an ensemble and then forged, cast, and tuned in the workshop of one gong maker. An ensemble is usually named. Prior to its voyage to America, this gamelan was named Gamelan Nyai Saraswati by Bapak Sutina, the renowned performer of shadow puppetry and father of the ensemble's previous owner, Midiyanto S. Putra.
The ensemble was cast and forged nearly 20 years ago, long enough for the bronze to stop "shifting" which means that the tuning has settled. The ensemble's tuning has the highly valued and much sought quality referred to as "manis" or "sweet" in the Javanese language. Gamelan are tuned in two scales -- laras pelog and laras slendro -- with instruments paired, one in each scale. With the exception of the front row of performers, when the members of the ensemble are facing predominantly out toward the audience, we are playing in laras slendro, when facing in toward the center, we are playing in laras pelog.
After finding temporary housing at the Chapel Hill Museum -- thanks to the generosity of Morgan Kenney, Director of the Museum -- an informal group of students from a variety of universities and several town's people began to meet in February of 2001. The group performed an informal concert for friends and the Board of the UCIS in June of 2001. Since then the group has continued to grow, there are now some 23 people involved in learning and performing Central Javanese music.
Ensemble director:Marzanna Poplawska (2008-)Previous ensemble directors: Ethan Lechner (2007-2008) Syam Gadde (2006-2007) Ethan Lechner (2004-2006) Sarah Weiss (2001-2004)
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