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Exploring Gamelan - working with genuine Javanese instruments


As part of the National Centre for Early Music's Musical Inclusion programme, Music4U , young people are being given hands-on experience of the instruments and music from another culture. The Exploring Gamelan project invites children from local schools and community groups to take part in practical workshops on Gamelan Sekar Petak, a set of traditional instruments from Indonesia, comprising bronze gongs and metallophones and carved wooden drums. The instruments were handmade in Surakarta, in Central Java, by Tentrem Sarwanto in 1981 and were crafted especially for the University of York. The name Sekar Petak, which translates as 'White Flower', was given in honour of the white rose emblem of York. There is a long history of gamelan playing in the city, with Sekar Petak being the first complete Javanese gamelan in a British university. The Exploring Gamelan project provides opportunities for young people from York and the East Yorkshire and Humber Region to be part of York's gamelan-playing culture.

Through short-courses and one-off workshops, young people are introduced to the traditional music of the gamelan, learning to play Javanese lancaran and gangsaran (short, cyclic pieces). The project offers insights into the cultural background of the gamelan, including discovering how the instruments are made and exploring some of the other artforms, such as puppetry and dance, which go hand-in-hand with this music. Young participants are also encouraged to work creatively and to use the instruments as a sound-source for contemporary composition and self-expression, with some groups developing new work as part of the Music4U Creativity Project . Recordings of young people's work can be heard on Music4U's Digital Musical Map . Playing as part of a gamelan ensemble has been shown to have a positive impact on participants' interpersonal skills and self-esteem. Exploring Gamelan seeks to support young people in developing team-working and communication skills, through work in a collaborative and egalitarian environment. The project also aims to promote self-awareness and confidence by giving young people access to genuine instruments and specialist tuition and by providing opportunities for creative expression.

Exploring Gamelan also provides opportunities for emerging music leaders to develop their skills. The project is led by York-based composer and gamelan specialist, Emily Crossland, assisted by Jade Flahive-Gilbert, a recent graduate of the University of York MA in Community Music, and supported by volunteers from the same MA programme and the University's Music Education Group (MEG). The MA and MEG volunteers are given the opportunity to observe, take part in and reflect on the Exploring Gamelan workshops and to develop their own practice through mentoring and advice offered by the lead musicians.

The project began in April 2014 and has engaged nearly 100 participants, through partnerships with NYMAZ, York High School, Castaway Dance, Castaway Young Musicians, Shipmates Youth Theatre, Accessible Arts and Media's Movers & Shakers and Sensory Movement groups, and the York IMPs.