Saturday 26th September 2015

As part of M.A.D.ís ongoing commitment to funding community music education, we presented an affordable Gamelan Taster Day on this beautifully warm September day. Gamelan is the traditional tuned percussion music of Indonesia, played on gongs and metallophones, creating a magical ensemble sound.

Our workshops took place in the hall of St. Nicolas Church, Downderry and were attended by local people of all ages. After a brief explanation of gamelan music and culture from teacher Jo Shaw, the two groups learned to play a Balinese piece called 'Baris' and by the end of the session were sounding quite confident! Everyone who attended enjoyed playing this fascinating music, and it's hoped to repeat the workshops at some point.

What is Gamelan?

Gamelan (pronounced gam-a-lan) is the traditional tuned percussion music of Indonesia. (The word means 'to hammer'.) A gamelan is a set of tuned percussion instruments consisting mainly of gongs, metallophones (instruments with rows of tuned metal bars that are struck with mallets) and drums. No two gamelans are the same - instruments are handmade and kept together as a set, and each gamelan has a different tuning. Gamelan music is found mainly in Bali and Java where there are two very distinct musical styles which differ from each other but are based on the same principles. Performing groups involve the whole village community, with people of all ages playing together. For the workshops in Downderry we will be using a Balinese Gamelan Angklung specially commissioned for Cornwall by teacher Joanna Shaw (with help from the Arts Council of England) and named 'Kernowgam'.


Kernowgam is a set of bronze Gamelan Angklung instruments which were made in Bali and came to Cornwall in 2007. They have been used for workshops in many local primary schools, and for adults and young people staying at the Woodland Valley residential centre in mid Cornwall. They are small enough to transport by car but loud and robust enough to make an instant and unforgettable impression!

Gamelan music is suited to workshops for people with any amount of musical experience – or none at all. Participants don’t have to be able read music as everything is transmitted aurally, and although each instrument is technically simple to play a complex piece is easily built up. Even during a short taster session the group can learn an authentic Balinese piece and be playing together by the end of the workshop. Workshops are structured to suit the participants, with a degree of flexibility ensuring everyone goes away feeling they’ve really achieved something, and learned something new.

Kernowgam (foreground) at London's South Bank Gamelanathon Festival 2013

Children and adults learning gamelan at Woodland Valley in Cornwall

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