Not many are familiar with a gamelan ensemble or know that BYU has its very own gamelan ensemble performing Saturday, Nov. 7.
Gamelan is a percussion orchestra with Asian routes and BYU’s group started in fall 2008. The group is directed by Dr. Jeremy Grimshaw and is dedicated to the traditional and contemporary music of Bali, which it practices and performs regularly.
However, the group is not just a handful of percussion students. The students come from diverse majors such as linguistics, dance, electrical engineering, anthropology, humanities and piano. There’s even a library administrator in the group. No prior experience is required to join the group, only because prior experience with Balinese instruments is uncommon.
The compositions performed are not written as the western community might expect; in fact they aren’t written at all. All of the gamelan compositions are composed and taught to individuals without any form of written script.
Grimshaw, or any teacher, must know the parts and instruments backwards, because he sits across from the musician on the other side and plays for the student to mirror. This is rehearsed repeatedly as each student learns his or her part by sight and listening.
“I consider myself a student and an advocate for the music,” Grimshaw said.
Grimshaw was introduced to his first gamelan ensemble when in graduate school and since then has had a fascination with the music. “It takes a lot of community, patience and no ego,” Grimshaw said.
The instruments are handcrafted in the shop of I Wayan Beratha by Balinese tuners and carvers. Each is elaborately carved with depictions of Balinese traditional stories, but these instruments also include a local twist. The center instruments include an inscription of the group’s name, Bintang Wahyu, and the back includes a picture of the Nauvoo sunstone.
According to Grimshaw, Bintang Wahyu includes a typical Balinese play on words. The “ntang” can be taken out of the name, making it sound similar to BYU: Bi-Wah-Yu.
The group will be performing Saturday, Nov. 7 in the DeJong Concert Hall. It will perform three pieces, one written by a former student of BYU and member of Bintang Wahyu.
Lour Kuttab, a BYU student studying actuarial science, has been part of the gamelan group for three semesters and is currently rehearsing daily for the performance. Kuttab took a world music class from Grimshaw. The class offered extra credit to get involved and perform in a production, which is where she was first exposed to BYU’s gamelan. “The music really is fun and I get to learn about the culture,” Kuttab said.
Students interested also have the opportunity to study abroad in Bali, with the Bali: Society, Faith and the Arts program through BYU. Grimshaw has visited Bali previously for gamelan related purposes and said he is excited for students to have this opportunity.
“I love the experience that you have when you are in Bali observing how gamelan works in the culture,” Grimshaw said. “When you see how this music works among the people who made it, it’s pretty amazing.”