Balinese Gamelan Ensemble Rehearsal

gamelanWhile walking in Seminyak, Bali, one evening I heard the strains of a gamelan ensemble. I quickly located them, practising in their temple and stood close to the stage to watch¬†them for a half an hour or so. When they took a break, their leader came over to me and explained that they were preparing for a competition to be held in a month’s time, but they were ‘not quite ready yet’.

This video shows them rehearsing, with one of the more experienced members mentoring two lesser-experienced members. At the same time, the leader was coaching another group and a third person yet another. The effect was interesting as there were probably four groups within the ensemble practising individual phrases; it was like listening to a Steve Reich piece, with each section in turn leading the others towards a new variation.

This is not surprising; Steve Reich has been influenced by the gamelan, as have a number of other western composers, including Debussy. The rhythms change, modulate and develop through the piece, changing their timing and even the individual instruments, particularly the drums and the gongs seem to adopt their own timing and rhythm.

The instrument played by the mentor is a bonang, a type of kettle drum.

During the musicians’ break from practice, I was warmly welcomed and offered a bottle of water on this warm and humid evening. Although the temple was on a main street in Seminyak, open to the road, many tourists walking past the entrance stopped only briefly to look inside before walking on. I visited on three consecutive evenings (they were practising between at least 7-10pm) yet, on each occasion I was there, I was the only non-local person to enter.

For most of the time, practice consisted of repeating particular phrases – the group was of mixed ability and being patiently coached. Towards the end of one of my visits, they demonstrated how they performed the piece in harmony. This video shows the group as they reach the end of the piece.

This was a joyous and memorable experience, which I hope to repeat on my next visit. One more video…