Gamelan is a large ensemble of mostly bronze percussion instruments and the most prominent traditional music from Indonesia. Its presence at Cornell offers a window into a truly majestic musical form as well as an entrée to the study of the fourth most populous nation in the world.

Gamelan forms a juncture between the music department and Cornell’s renowned Southeast Asia Program. Heard on campus since the early years of the program’s Cornell Modern Indonesia Project—Benedict Anderson was a central figure in performances at the time—gamelan’s place at Cornell was secured with the founding in 1972 of the Cornell Gamelan Ensemble by then-graduate student Martin F. Hatch ’80. As the department’s first ethnomusicologist, Hatch led the ensemble until his retirement. Since 2008, it has been directed by Christopher J. Miller.

The ensemble plays on a set of Javanese instruments on long term loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, brought to the New York Worlds’ Fair in 1964, and then to Cornell in 1975.

Over the years, the ensemble has explored different regional traditions of gamelan under the guidance of guest instructors, including Sundanese gamelan salendro with Endo Suanda and Balinese gamelan angklung with I Nyoman Suadin and PhD student Bethany Collier ’07. Since 2008, it has returned to its original focus on the Central Javanese style. Alongside the study and performance of traditional repertoire, the ensemble has supported the use of the instruments for contemporary composition and improvisation, including two programs of new works by graduate students for gamelan and strings in collaboration with Momenta Quartet. Other notable projects include performances of wayang (shadow puppet theater) and dance with guest artists such as Sumarsam ’92, Danang Pamungkas, and Darsono Hadiraharjo.

For more on the history of gamelan at Cornell, see Martin F. Hatch, “Tuning to. . . Gamelan at Cornell,”  Fall Bulletin of the Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 2008, 6-11.

For documentation of past performances, see the Cornell Gamelan Ensemble’s YouTube channel. For upcoming events, search for “gamelan.”

Cornell Gamelan Ensemble performs onstage in Barnes Hall

Course offerings

MUSIC 1341 Gamelan in Indonesian History and Cultures

(crosslisted as ASIAN 2245 and VISST 2744)

3 credits, letter grade or S/U, offered every fall

Combines a systematic introduction to playing gamelan with a seminar that explores the full range of music in Indonesia

MUSIC 3610 Gamelan Ensemble

1 credit, letter grade or S/U, offered fall and spring

Ensemble course, focused on playing more advanced repertoire

MUSIC 4641 Advanced Instruction in Gamelan

1 credit, letter grade, offered fall and spring

Add-on to MUSIC 3610 for students wanting to learn more advanced instruments through individual instruction

For more information search for “gamelan,” watch this trailer, or email Christopher J. Miller