Department of Music’s “Gongs and Shadows” Wraps Up Fall Concert Series

On Wednesday, Dec. 6  at 7:30 p.m., the Department of Music is presenting Gongs and Shadows, a Gamelan concert accompanied by shadow puppet scenes. This will be one of the last four shows to wrap up their fall concert series.

Gamelan is a traditional ensemble of instruments originating in Indonesia, which includes components such as gongs, drums and other percussive instruments. The Javanese Gamelan is distinct from its Balinese counterpart and will be the style played at the concert.

Professor Jody Diamond will be directing the ensemble. She is an adjunct faculty member in the music and anthropology departments who founded the American Gamelan Institute in 1981. Diamond started playing Gamelan in 1970 at the California Institute of the Arts and has gone to pursue a lifetime of learning and composing in Gamelan, taking many trips to Indonesia and working with composers around the world to teach and transform the music.

Diamond currently teaches Southeast Asian Music Ensemble, a class with three-hour long rehearsals every Wednesday. This group will be performing in the ensemble. Diamond expressed how unique it is for these students to be performing now. “What other instrument would you study for four months and then be asked to perform in public?” Though many of her students have some background in music, none of them were familiar with Gamelan before taking this class. Diamond sees the beauty in this though. “The thing about Gamelan is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever played music or you’ve never played music, because since it’s a different world of music. It’s a different path to discovering your own musicality, which everybody has.”

The instruments currently housed in College Hall, named Gamelan Si Betty, were built by Lou Harrison, a former student of Diamond who passed away in 2003. They spent time at Harvard and MIT before coming to New Paltz. In the world of Gamelan, every set of instruments is different, so there are variations in structure and tuning. “The musicians come to the Gamelan and work together so you can hear this particular voice, so you can hear what this gamelan sounds like.”

Gongs and Shadows will feature many different pieces, multiple of which will be interactive. The first piece will have each musician invite an audience member to play one of the instruments so they can see how challenging it can be to play. Another piece will invite the audience from their seats to count silently and clap on every 12th beat to show how everyone keeps time differently.

One piece, called Sabbath Bride, will use the Gamelan to play a traditional Jewish prayer song. With Indonesia being a dominantly Muslim country, Diamond believes the song can show how some cultures, which may be politically divided, can be spiritually connected. She composed it in 2001 and performed the piece in New York following 9/11. “It became a very powerful symbol of where music can take you beyond things you might be angry about.” It was included in the program in light of recent world events.

The show will be held at Shepard Recital Hall. Tickets cost $10, but are free for students with ID.