Friends of the Gamelan, Inc. (FROG) traces its roots to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. One of the many exotic attractions on the Exposition’s Midway Plaisance was the Java Village, complete with a Sundanese gamelan. Never before had gamelan music been heard in the Western hemisphere. Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History was founded to preserve, catalog, and exhibit the myriad cultural treasures that remained following the Exposition, including the gamelan.
In the late 1970s, a group of musicians began to meet regularly at the Field Museum to play gamelan music on the very same instruments from the 1893 Exposition. FROG was formed in 1980 for the purpose of acquiring an iron gamelan that could be used for traveling workshops and performances. It was forged in the foundry of Pak Dutosudarma, the official gamelan maker to the sultan of Surakarta (Solo) in central Java. Its name, Nyai Panjang Sari, translates as the venerable essence of gamelan music. It is a full double-tuning gamelan, having both slendro and pelog tuning systems.
In 2000, FROG purchased a bronze gamelan which has been named Sri Sedana, after Dewi Sri, the rice goddess. Gamelan Sri Sedana consists of over 50 instruments in two tuning systems (laras): the seven-tone pelog and the five-tone slendro. Midiyanto, the renowned Javanese shadow puppeteer (dhalang) and gamelan musician who resides in Berkeley, California, assisted FROG in commissioning the instruments from a gamelan maker in Wonogiri, Java. The pelog tuning of Gamelan Sri Sedana is played in this recording.
Members of FROG and students of the University of Chicago make up the Performance Ensemble. The Performance Ensemble rehearses regularly and holds an annual spring concert at Hyde Park Union Church, which is only a short walk from the 1893 site of the Java Village. Like a gong cycle, the history of gamelan music in Chicago has come full circle.
In cooperation with the University of Chicago Department of Music, FROG has been privileged to work with many outstanding gamelan musicians from both Java and the US, including Joko Sutrisno, Purbo Asmoro, Harjito, Sumaryono, Midiyanto, Hartono, Minarno, Raharja, Sumarsam, and F. X. Widaryanto. Moreover, FROG enjoys a close relationship with the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Chicago. The Consulate has graciously provided FROG with occasional access to its exquisite bronze gamelan. FROG has participated in many memorable performances in partnership with Consulate staff.
FROG’s repertoire is rich and diverse, spanning everything from centuries-old, traditional Javanese compositions to contemporary works, some of them written by FROG’s own members. FROG’s performances of modern compositions for gamelan by Lou Harrison (1927-2003) are especially notable.
CONTENTS OF THE CD
SAYUK means “together in harmony” and is a short, traditional composition commonly used to accompany dance. Marto Pengrawit originally composed Sayuk in 1950. Joko Sutrisno created this arrangement by adding to the original composition heard in the saron and vocal parts.
GAMBYONG PARIANOM is a suite that contains the lively Ciblon Pancerana section of Gambir Sawit, one of the most renowned Central Javanese gamelan pieces.
LERE-LERE SUMBANGSIH portrays the harmony between husband and wife. This theme is emphasized early in the vocal part when the husband asks her help in managing the family affairs; the wife responds with assurance that this is her obligation.
MIJIL GONDHANG KASIH was composed by Bapak Sunarto Ciptosuwarso, the leader of the gamelan groups at the Mangkunegaran Palace and Radio Republic Indonesia from the early 1960s through the 1970s. This piece reflects the sadness and confusion of a man broken hearted because the woman he loves is gone.
TROPONGAN, SINOM WENI GONJING, and RONGGO LAWE are a suite of dance pieces based on the theme of strong determination.
PURWA-PADA is composed by ensemble member Morgan Wirthlin. This semi-improvise piece consists of a building section that increases in density as it slows and repeats, followed by a concluding section with a pleasant, falling melody. Purwa-pada is an old Javanese symbol used to mark the opening of a book of poetry.
PEKSI KUWUNG means “peacock.” Its gong cycle has 12 beats. This traditional piece is performed in wayang (shadow puppet theater) style, featuring an interlocking pattern played by two sarons in response to a drum pattern.
SERAYU is named for the longest river in West Java. The gong cycle has 16 beats. The strong syncopation suggests the beauty of the river.
GUNUNG SARI is a dance piece in the so-called “refined female style” depicting an episode of unrequited infatuation from the Javanese Panji epic. The drumming follows the dance closely and emphasizes its movements.
PEMUT is a lively, contemporary piece influenced by Indonesian pop music. Composed by Joko Sutrisno in 2007, it features continuous interlocking patterns played by two kendhang drums, plus occasional strokes on the very large drum.
KUTUT MANGGUNG describes the beauty of a number of different birds, especially the dove, a favorite domestic bird in Java, where contests are commonly held to choose the bird with the most beautiful song. This piece is coupled with KUDHA NYONGKLANG. In this piece, Prince Panji would like to ride his horse. He has tried many different ways, but the horse still doesn’t cooperate.
CAPING NGGUNUNG (bamboo hat) is a popular gamelan piece arranged by the renowned composer, Bapak Gesang. Langgam is a kind of Javanese folksong influences by Portuguese music. Dhangdhut is a style of Indonesian rock music with roots in orkes melayu (ecclectic ensemble music combining Malay and Western elements), Indian music, and urban Arab pop.
SUMARAH means “we’ve done our best with this offering and how it is received is out of our hands,” so it is an appropriate final piece.
Artistic Direction by Joko Sutrisno. A graduate of the Academy of Performing Arts in Surakarta, Central java, Joko is a gifted gamelan performer, composer, and teacher. Based in Minnesota since 1995, he currently directs the gamelan program for the Indonesian Performing Arts Association of Minnesota (IPAAM), including the Sumunar Gamelan Ensemble. He is an adjunct faculty member at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota and presents school residencies and workshops throughout the year for students of all ages.
Produced by Friends of the Gamelan
Recorded by David Hunter
Album Design by Nico Heins