Imagine entering a room filled with just one instrument, an instrument large enough to take up the majority of the space, an instrument that can be played by not just one person, but many, an instrument that brings people together and sparks community.That’s exactly the type of experience a gamelan can produce.
Thanks to Duane Gingerich, a GC alum, the Goshen community will soon benefit from having a gamelan of their own.
The gamelan, which comes from Indonesia, is in and of itself an orchestra. It consists of several different types of gongs and various sets of tuned metal instruments that are struck with mallets.
The instrument has a long-standing history, having been around since the 8th century, featured predominantly in the court life of Indonesia, most particularly on the islands of Java and Bali, where it is the most popular form of traditional music.
Gingerich, who passed away recently, lived in Indonesia with his wife, Reti, and approached the college nearly six years ago with the idea of gifting a gamelan. It was one of two which were housed in his very own home.
“In Indonesia, it is part of the culture to have gamelan ensembles playing throughout the community at any given time of the day or night,” said Deb Detwiler Brubaker, professor of music and a key player in helping bring the instrument to Goshen.
“It is a social, cultural, and possible religious activity. Sometimes it is accompanied by dancers, sometimes singers, sometimes shadow puppetry. So for a group to be playing at Duane’s house for several hours in a row would not be unusual,” Detwiler Brubaker said.
Gingerich, who moved to Indonesia after graduation and became a lawyer, benefitted greatly from Mary Oyer’s fine arts course. The gift of the gamelan was given in honor of Oyer and all she has given to her students and community over the years. Since Gingerich’s passing, Detwiler Brubaker and Marcia Yost, Music Center executive director, have been working closely with his wife, Reti, to get the large instrument here.
“It’s a beautiful instrument that we’re having restored,” said Yost.
The instrument is under 50 years old – if it were older, it could not leave Indonesia for historical reasons.
The exact location of where the gamelan will be housed is yet to be determined. The biggest goal of its location is that it be somewhere where it can be accessible to the community and to people who will play it.
“We don’t have space at the Music Center where it could be left out all the time,” said Yost. “But we’re looking at what we can do that will make this readily accessible, and we’re still in the brainstorming phases.”
“We are concentrating on Vita House, the single-story greenish house on 12th Street next to the Music Center parking lot,” said Detwiler Brubaker. “We are working at securing funding for any endeavor that will create a space for it to be housed. It is very particular about needing high humidity so it will need to be a temperature controlled environment.”
The biggest draw for having the gamelan in the community is the various levels at which it can be experienced.
“We want it to be left out in a space where people can admire it for its beauty and be seen as art in itself,” said Yost. “The vision is to find a space on campus that would become part of a program that we would actually work at creating a variety of different kinds of experiences for students and community members of all ages.”
There are a variety of tones that create ongoing patterns of sound. These intricacies also create different kinds of experiences, both for listeners and players.
“Students could come in and play the gamelan, at the elementary and middle school age, and we could also bring in IB music students as a world music option,” said Yost.
The instrument is promising for students of the college age as well.
“We’ll be the only gamelan for quite a ways around and there might be one in Chicago but that’s not one that will be as accessible as ours is,” Yost said.
Area colleges would possibly have the opportunity to come to Goshen and experience the instrument with their students.
“It’s an opportunity to show that we have something that no other area schools have,” Yost said.
Maggie Weaver, senior, had the opportunity to use a gamelan along with the rest of the Women’s World Choir this past spring break during their tour.
“It was like a more intimate orchestral experience—instead of just relying on sheet music to fuel the melodies, we were all reliant on the beat of the drums and other instruments for cues,” Weaver said. “The entire idea of a gamelan is based on instrumental community in a way I hadn’t experienced before.”
Detwiler Brubaker and Yost hope to recreate that experience here in Goshen and use the instrument as a form of an arts outreach program.
“We could also create some sort of experience for Greencroft or other community members and even if we were to brainstorm we would hope that there would be some curricular pieces that would be particularly wonderful,” said Yost.
The instrument is scheduled to arrive sometime this summer.
“Even if we don’t know where it’s going to go,” Yost said, “the important thing is to get it here.”