Air Mengalir: I Madé Lasmawan, Pedagogy, and Musical Kinship in the Transnational Balinese Gamelan Community
Indonesians and non-Indonesians alike question whether non-Indonesian gamelan falls within the same aesthetic lineage as its Indonesian predecessors. This creates controversy about how to position gamelan culturally in the United States in relation to the broader Balinese and Javanese gamelan traditions. This article positions the tracing of pedagogical lineages as one way to understand the transmission of Indonesian performing arts traditions to other communities around the world. It illustrates this concept through the artistic genealogy of one such lineage: the work and community of Balinese performer-pedagogue artist I Madé Lasmawan. By examining two phrases Lasmawan uses to describe his process—a focus on “the next generation” of musicians and air mengalir (Indonesian for “water flows”), an idea that mimics the Balinese traditional irrigation systems—the article emphasizes how musical genealogy can form a powerful sense of connection between gamelan communities in Indonesia and in the United States.
Tracing a Musical Genealogy
Water is of the utmost importance in traditional Balinese society; a local name for Balinese Hinduism, “Agama Tirta” (religion of holy water), reflects this importance. Originating at the peaks of the volcanic Balinese mountains, water flows downward to the sea, bringing sustenance and new growth to all in its path just as its composition is slightly altered with every river bend. The people across different banjar (village wards) and regions coordinate in routing irrigation canals so all communities can benefit. Their rice irrigation societies, called subak (Geertz and Geertz 1975; Lansing 2006), are tasked with maintaining the course of the water as well as the water temples that spiritually protect and preserve the flow of the water from one location to another. Each subak has its own identity, its own egalitarian yet hierarchical organization, and its own links to other social units that it crosscuts. Yet, although each member of a subak may have different interests, all members depend on the root source of the water and the network that binds them. They work together to ensure the preservation and distribution of this vital resource.
Like the water guided by the subaks from the mountain to the sea, Balinese performing arts traditions have been guided by performer-pedagogues to hundreds of new communities around the globe. Since the mid-twentieth century, gamelan ensembles outside of Indonesia have flourished in non-Indonesian communities across the world. As of 2015, performing gamelan ensembles are in New York and Tokyo; San Francisco and Sydney; Missoula, Montana, and Tallahassee, Florida—totaling more than five hundred performing gamelan ensembles outside of Indonesia in all, with the greatest concentration found in the United States.1 In Bali and Java, gamelan music and its associated performing arts are central to the unique social structures and religious practices that define traditional cultural life. Outside Indonesia, gamelan are populated largely by non-Indonesians, with the exception of Indonesian artistic directors. While linked by a shared repertoire and an active community of teachers and performers, these groups fulfill a diverse set of roles in their local communities. Played in classrooms, concert halls, and music festivals by musicians from a range of cultural backgrounds and levels of skill, gamelan has taken on a host of new meanings: as a teaching tool of cultural and musical diversity, a marker of pan-Asian heritage, and an exercise in the consumption of the exotic.
For these reasons, Indonesians and non-Indonesians alike question whether non-Indonesian gamelan falls within the same aesthetic lineage as its Indonesian predecessors. This creates controversy about how to position gamelan culturally in the United States in relation to the broader Balinese and Javanese gamelan traditions. Members of the California-based Balinese gamelan group Gamelan Sekar Jaya suggest “American performers have . . . become participants in the ongoing creation of Balinese culture” (Marc Perlman, quoted in Diamond 1998). Other musicians and scholars present a more conflicted picture of how these ensembles relate to both American and Indonesian sensibilities, reflecting on their potential to exoticize Indonesian musical cultures by donning traditional costumes (“ethnodrag”; see Harnish, Solís, and Witzleben 2004), to calcify musical traditions through performing static non-adaptations of Indonesian repertoire (McGraw 2013c), or to allow musicians to live out their fantasies of “an idealized humanity, a harmonious, non-conflictual form valuing group over individual” (McGraw 2013c).
Indonesian musicians themselves have divided opinions on multicultural transformations of Indonesian music, both within and outside of Indonesia, with particular critique arising from musicians of the avant-garde, such as I Wayan Sadra (1953–2011) (McGraw 2013a:222–25; McGraw 2013b:339). Indonesian teachers who have spent much of their careers instructing non-Indonesian students have noted, however, the importance of Indonesians’ work in the United States as fostering intercultural understanding by forming “a bridge to Java” (Hardja Susilo, quoted in Harnish, Solís, and Witzleben 2004) as well as the historical productivity of transnational partnerships in theorizing about gamelan music (Sumarsam 2013).
While real divergences exist between gamelan culture as performed, envisioned, and represented within Indonesian and American contexts, gamelan music within the United States remains an important part of Indonesian musical lineages that transmit knowledge about the Indonesian performing arts to the next generation of musicians. It is through the life-long work of Indonesian performer-pedagogues and their students in the United States that American gamelan communities have flourished. By creating bonds between non-Indonesian gamelan practitioners (Mendonça 2002; Lueck 2012), the leaders of gamelan ensembles in the United States also extend Indonesian musical lineages through the constant presentation and re-presentation of Indonesian music and culture that they and their students undertake.
This chapter positions tracing pedagogical lineages as one way to understand the transmission of Indonesian performing arts traditions to other communities around the world. It illustrates this lineage concept through an artistic genealogy by using the example of one such lineage: the work and community of Balinese performer-pedagogue artist I Madé Lasmawan. Through examining two phrases Lasmawan uses to describe his process—a focus on “the next generation” of musicians and air mengalir (Indonesian for “water flows”), an idea that mimics Balinese traditional irrigation systems—the chapter emphasizes how musical genealogy can form a powerful sense of connection between gamelan communities in Indonesia and in the United States. In establishing this lineage-based or genealogical system, it positions genealogy within other important conceptual frameworks used to analyze transnational gamelan culture.
Gamelan Communities in the United States
Indonesian arts performances can be found at a number of venues in the United States: university concerts, civic events, Asian festivals, weddings, and even large outdoor events, such as Burning Man. Most of these performances are associated with one of the approximately 170 gamelan ensembles based in the United States. According to the American Gamelan Institute website, approximately 42 percent of them are Central Javanese, 41 percent are Balinese (of varying ensemble types), 8 percent are West Javanese (Sundanese), 6 percent were built in the United States, and 2 percent are Cirebonese or other styles. Although many groups perform new or experimental works by Indonesian or American composers at some time, about 90 percent play traditional Indonesian repertoires as a core portion of their repertoires. Sixty percent of the ensembles are affiliated with a college or university (AGI 2015).
The current affiliation of many gamelan with American colleges and universities is a practical one—few individuals have sufficient capital to purchase or store a gamelan—but it is also historically motivated. Although the first gamelan was brought to the United States for the 1893 Colombian Exhibition in Chicago, it was a small cadre of American and European intellectuals who began to study gamelan music and incorporate it into their writings and teachings.2 Ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood founded the first performing ensembles, Javanese and Balinese, which arrived at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 1958 and 1959, respectively (Conner 2011). They served a specifically pedagogical purpose. Hood introduced gamelan as a paradigm through which music students could practice bi-musicality—the hands-on study of a foreign musical culture as a second language. This practice became a foundational concept in American ethnomusicology and a critical part of multicultural music education. The relative emphasis on tradition within both academic and community-based gamelan is likely due in part to the pedagogical origins of these initial gamelan. Other universities began to acquire gamelan for pedagogical purposes in the early 1960s, but it was only in 1979 that the first community-based groups (Gamelan Sekar Jaya in California and the Boston Village Gamelan in Massachusetts) were formed.
The demographics, practice and performance structure, and aims of academic and community gamelan groups in the United States may vary greatly (Lueck 2012), yet academic and community gamelan are largely symbiotic. As training grounds for many new players, academic institutions have historically served as hosts for artists receiving governmental funding (McGraw 2013a:34, 221–25), have provided means of employment and post-graduate study for artists who lead both academic and community gamelan (Sumarsam 2004:73–74),3 and supply other forms of support to finance and house gamelan. The academic-community link is important in understanding gamelan culture in America as it shapes how information is learned both in academic and community-based groups.
The importance of establishing student-teacher relationships—in a musical-social sense as well as in perpetuating musical knowledge—is common in musical cultures throughout the world, especially those where musical training is associated with a hereditary element, such as in the Wolof griot tradition of Senegal (Tang 2007). In North Indian classical music traditions, the multigenerational structure of musical families is traced through bloodlines (descent or marriage) in a system called khandan. Better known is the gharana system, in which the teacher (guru), a descendant of a particular musical lineage, passes lineage-specific raga (melodic systems) and their associated cultural meanings to his or her students (Ruckert 2004:36). Individuals perpetuate these generations-old musical lineages by teaching new students; they add their “stamp” to the lineage through their own musical innovations (Deshpande 1973:15).
In Bali in particular, familial relationships form a central part of the structural framework of society. Relationships based on biological and matrimonial lineages, caste, and a person’s position within the family structure in large part determine an individual’s social obligations to others (Geertz and Geertz 1975; Eiseman 1990). Identifying family members, in tandem with identifying their geographical origin (region and village), contextualizes that person within Balinese society. Although Balinese society subdivides itself and its lineages in many ways, biological kinship is of prime importance (Geertz and Geertz 1975). For musicians and dancers, the region where they studied is crucial to inflecting their performances with certain stylistic markers; musical lineages encompassing these styles and genres are passed down to the next generation. Musical lineage is important in Bali where each region, and even each village, hosts distinctive styles and repertoires (Dibia and Ballinger 2004).
In the Indian classical music context, tracing the gharana lineages of modern individuals such as Ravi Shankar (who taught extensively in both India and the West) helps illustrate the importance of the individual in both transmitting musical and cultural heritage and transforming it within new cultural contexts. This chapter borrows the idea of musical genealogical lineages, represented graphically as a family tree, to show the relationships between teacher and student as well as to illuminate points of musical and cultural adaptation. It suggests this model, in addition to illustrating the historical development and continued musical connection between gamelan and their members, exemplifies how pedagogical connections bridge and create a continued dialogue between Indonesian and non-Indonesian gamelan ensembles.
Modeling Gamelan Kinships: A Case Study
Since the introduction of the first gamelan ensembles in the United States in the 1950s, a number of Indonesian musicians, dancers, and puppeteers have taught in this country either as guests or as permanent artists-in-residence. In working with non-Indonesian students, each Indonesian performer-pedagogue extends his or her own lineage of study and performance to a new set of students who inherit and transform that lineage. Examining individual case studies can serve to illustrate important personal and pedagogical themes of these musicians’ lives and works. It is from this perspective that this chapter proceeds, in the hope that it will encourage further biographical documentation of pivotal figures within the globalized gamelan community. This chapter begins this process by looking at the life, work, and community of I Madé Lasmawan.
Like those of his Indonesian peers, Lasmawan’s life is instructive in that it is both representative and exceptional. Though he was not the first Balinese gamelan teacher to work in the United States, nor is he the one with the longest active career, Lasmawan’s founding of several gamelan ensembles in the Rocky Mountain region over the past twenty-five years illustrates the ways American groups can function (fig. 1). Having sown the “seeds” of gamelan across the region, he was nicknamed by his students and colleagues “the Johnny Appleseed of Balinese gamelan in America” after the American folk hero who planted apple trees across large portions of the mid-Atlantic and Midwest. Tended by Lasmawan and his family, these gamelan have grown into distinctive ensembles, but ones that all share the same roots: Lasmawan’s pedagogical lineage. The diversity of these related groups, coupled with Lasmawan’s explicit dedication to and enthusiasm for teaching non-Indonesian students, provides insight into the pedagogical impetus behind his work.
The foundations of Lasmawan’s musical lineage are rooted in the location and generation within which he grew up. Born in the banjar of Bangah, Tabanan, Bali, on January 11, 1958, he was raised in a musical family. Like many musicians in Bali at the time, Lasmawan’s earliest musical education resulted from joining his relatives (his father and his uncle) in local gamelans and gradually learning local repertoires. He played gamelan semar pegulingan, gender wayang, and, after his village procured a set, gamelan gong kebyar to serve the community’s ritual functions. He later learned janger, joged bumbung, and drama gong within his father’s arts club (sanggar).
Lasmawan’s elementary and middle-school (Indonesian: sekolah dasar and sekolah menengah kejuruah) in Bangah and Baturiti, respectively, complemented these village-based studies. There, he was taught by two graduates from KOKAR (Konservatori Karawitan, the high school level Conservatory for Traditional Music), who subsequently persuaded Lasmawan to enroll at that institution. After graduating from KOKAR, he received a scholarship to teach Balinese gamelan while studying Javanese performing arts at ASKI (Akademi Seni Karawitan Indonesia-Surakarta) in Surakarta, Java, where he received both sarjana satu (S1, bachelor’s) and sarjana dua (S2, master’s) degrees. In both places, he continued to study with other artists (seniman alam, “natural artists”) who were neither trained at, nor associated with, the conservatories. Through studying in Bali and Java, with both conservatory instructors and seniman alam, Lasmawan learned a variety of musical styles from the great performers and pedagogues of his age (fig. 2).
Studying in both Java and Bali and seeking out so many teachers were somewhat unusual at the time. Lasmawan’s educational experience otherwise followed patterns common among his peers of the same generation, and these experiences highlight a significant generational shift in the training of professional artists in Indonesia. KOKAR, ASKI, and other Indonesian arts conservatories in the 1950s and 1960s followed Dutch colonial educational styles that the new Indonesian government adopted and adapted. They presented significant shifts in how the performing arts were taught, including (at least in Bali) teaching standardized forms of many repertoires, creating notation for Balinese gamelan music, accepting women to study gamelan, and teaching dance in mirrored studios. These developments can be linked directly to the paradigms of Western-style arts conservatories (Heimarck 2003:147–84; Umeda 2007:44).
The diversification of musical genres and styles featured in Lasmawan’s conservatory education (and supplemented by his own initiatives) provided both the explicit opportunity to learn different styles and the implicit opportunity to observe various approaches to performing arts culture and teaching. Lasmawan particularly enjoys revisiting Javanese gamelan theory, because, he says, it contains “the roots of Balinese gamelan”—but it also offers different perspectives on pedagogy and learning. This diversified education gave Lasmawan distinctive opportunities that would be central to his ability to transmit knowledge to non-Indonesian musicians. His initial study and performance in the village left him with an aesthetic grounding in the relatively conservative Tabanan style as well as a strong sense of community purpose. He prefers the artistic and community atmosphere of performing at temple ceremonies in Tabanan over performing, for example, at the Bali Arts Festival. His broad range of experiences, especially teaching gamelan to non-Balinese in Java, allowed him to teach not only one repertoire or style but also to craft a pedagogy and to impart a style and philosophy appropriate to each of his American groups. Finally, like many other Balinese musicians who spent much of their career teaching overseas, Lasmawan’s formal education opened professional doors that were unavailable to his seniman alam peers.4
Despite the potential to keep working at the conservatory, Lasmawan uprooted his young family in 1990 and took a gamelan teaching position at San Diego State University at the request of Robert (“Bob”) Brown (1927–2005).5 After several years of teaching Balinese and Javanese gamelan in San Diego, Lasmawan received a half-time faculty position at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where today he teaches gamelan and Balinese culture, and his wife, Ni Ketut Marni (born 1973), teaches dance. This stable position enabled him to teach at other institutions in the area that were interested in gamelan but could not afford to support a teacher on their own. Within a year of his arrival, Lasmawan became the director of Gamelan Tunas Mekar, the Denver-based community gamelan. Over the past few years, he has driven hundreds of miles per week to instruct almost a half-dozen Balinese gamelan ensembles in Colorado and Wyoming, with fewer visits to Montana and other Western states. Lasmawan has spent more than twenty years of his career cultivating Balinese gamelan in the United States, most of them largely populated by students. In addition to these inter-American gamelan networks, each summer Lasmawan hosts students in his home village. There they study Balinese music and culture intensively. They even perform for local temple ceremonies and thus join the community in Bangah in maintaining the social and religious life of the village. His main goal, he says, is “to open minds.”
While it is not uncommon for gamelan musicians both in Indonesia and abroad to be active within multiple gamelan groups at once, Lasmawan’s network is more extensive than most. As a leader or coleader of the gamelans with which he works regularly, Lasmawan himself provides a framework of musical practice and conceptual philosophy for the groups. In 2011 he named this collection of interrelated communities Sanggar Manik Galih and emblazoned the name and logo on the wall of his village compound. The name, which refers to the growing part of a grain of rice, mirrors his conception of the growth of gamelan. A sanggar may incorporate members from multiple banjar, but it is generally somewhat geographically limited in scope. Creating a transnational banjar interpolates non-Balinese musicians explicitly into the contexts of Balinese performing arts.
The foreign musicians themselves cannot be seen as fully part of the Balinese community. In large part, they do not have Balinese heritage, nor do they permanently embody Balinese social roles. The performance space they embody, then, becomes a liminal one—a threshold (Turner 2008:95–97) that transcends the geographical and cultural locations of Bali and the United States. Scholars writing about gamelan outside of Indonesia (Mendonça 2002; Macy 2010; Lueck 2012) have suggested that playing gamelan music itself is a foundation of communitas (a feeling of community through the experience of liminality) for groups of foreign gamelan musicians. The active roles that Indonesians such as Lasmawan play as teachers and community builders, including efforts to integrate Indonesian and non-Indonesian personae into gamelan learning lineages, however, suggests the creation of communitas is not limited to non-Indonesians. By including all of his groups as members or affiliates of a single sanggar that he updates bilingually through the Facebook page “Sanggar Manik Galih: Bangah and Colorado,” Lasmawan effectively collapses the geographical and cultural distances between American and Balinese home communities.
Envisioning Gamelan Lineages
Hardja Susilo (1934–2015), the first Indonesian gamelan teacher to work long-term in the United States, described his function as a teacher as being a “bridge” to Java. Through his work, students who were sufficiently interested in learning more about Javanese gamelan could gain the basic skills and contacts that they would need to study further in Java (Susilo, quoted in Harnish, Solís, and Witzleben 2004:60). Susilo’s writing mainly treats this “bridge” as a one-way path that students travel from America to Indonesia. The equivalent in depicting a musical lineage would be to show all students as musical and cultural heirs.
Students of Indonesian gamelan teachers, however, may complicate that unidirectional picture. Though they can be depicted as being primarily recipients within a musical lineage, the true picture is more complex. While many of Lasmawan’s students, especially at the colleges, might play for only one semester, many of his other students have become teachers in their own right. They teach Balinese music and culture at colleges and universities, at elementary schools, and in communities. They found and maintain active gamelan ensembles, give lectures, preserve old repertoire and instruments, and write new compositions. Their work involves not only the transmission of canonical dance pieces, such as “Rejang Dewa” and “Puspanjali,” and Lasmawan’s own compositions (“Sumiar” and others), but also the sharing of elements of musical and social philosophy, such as the interrelationship of musicians within the ensemble.6 This transmission process is what he terms air mengalir. Water (musical knowledge) flows, with each set of teachers affecting a slight change in the flow of knowledge. For Lasmawan, passing on artistic knowledge to what he terms “the next generation” is one of the most important parts of his career. When asked how he felt about the fact that so many of his “next generation” musicians would be non-Balinese Americans, he answered:
That’s fine! Because the concept of gamelan is universal, is not only for [the] Balinese, you know? Not only for [the] Javanese. It is good, you know? A good gamelan player can be from another country . . . from Canada, from England, or from Japan, or from America, or from Mexico, or from anywhere, because to study gamelan is just like to study other things. If you learn seriously, you get it. I’m okay with that (Lasmawan, personal communication, March 3, 2013).
Another more literal part of Lasmawan’s musical genealogy are his three sons, all of whom are actively engaged in the Balinese performing arts as active musicians and dancers (fig. 3). Though the younger two are still in secondary school, the eldest, Putu Hiranmayena, is pursuing a career in the arts. Now in his mid-twenties, Putu graduated from Colorado College with a degree in the visual and performing arts. Following graduation, he moved to California, where, in addition to pursuing a master’s degree in integrative studies at the University of California in San Diego, he served as a codirector of the children’s gamelan group at the Museum School in San Diego along with Alex Khalil, codirected the University of San Diego gamelan ensemble with David Harnish, and appeared as a guest performer with a number of gamelan ensembles. After graduating from UCSD, he began a PhD program in ethnomusicology at the University of Illinois in 2015, where he performs with the university gamelan directed by I Ketut Gedé Asnawa.7
For Hiranmayena, gamelan “just happened.” Born in Yogyakarta in 1989, he moved to the United States with his family when he was about one year old. He has been learning and playing gamelan for as long as he can remember. “There’s a picture of me, about age three, sitting on my dad’s lap while he played gender [a keyed metallophone],” he once noted, laughingly. For much of his life, however, he thought he would pursue a different career path and only recently did he begin to make what he calls his “cyclical journey back to gamelan.” He says, “When I was younger, I loved pop music. . . . Whenever my dad had rehearsals, I was there, in the gamelan room, doing my homework and listening to something else.” He regained interest in gamelan during college. Now, however, he represents a generational bridge between Indonesian and American gamelan musicians. Taking elements of his father’s teachings as well as those he has learned from others, Hiranmayena represents a further extension of the family pedagogical lineage (Hiranmayena, personal communication, April 8, 2013).
Air Mengalir Gamelan Ecosystems
Lisa Gold (working on Balinese wayang [shadow puppetry]) and Benjamin Brinner (working on transnational gamelan communities) take a different approach to envisioning gamelan communities. They apply ecological models to understand the relationship between gamelan and community. In the process they liken musical ecosystems to environmental ecosystems in several ways. People (organisms) and learning or performance contexts (environments) shape and are shaped dynamically by each other, fulfilling different niches, or distinct roles necessary for the ecosystem to survive (Gold 2013:13–78). Ecologically, different plant or animal communities thrive or diminish based on the demands of the ecosystem as a whole. In the same vein, various types of musical groups and genres fulfill different niches, or roles, within these musical ecosystems, and as both scholars note, this means individuals, ensembles, repertoires, or entire genres can either thrive or diminish in prevalence, depending on the overall situation of the ecosystem (Gold 2013; Brinner and Gold in this online volume).
This ecological metaphor provides a particularly poignant pairing with the idea of musical lineages. Family genealogies have long been represented in the West with branching “family trees,” with the oldest ancestors at the root. The metaphor that Lasmawan uses for how knowledge of gamelan music is transmitted from teacher to student—air mengalir (water flows down)—reflects a different ecological model, one serendipitously connected to English/Western conceptions.
Taking this metaphor, the elders of the Balinese gamelan community are like the wellspring of the musical knowledge that is transmitted. Like water flowing from the mountains to the sea, the composition of musical knowledge may change on its path as new streams are added or split away and as musicians add to or pare down what they teach. Nutrients (positive changes) or pollutants (negative developments) may enter as well. Although the locations through which musical knowledge may differ, the musical traditions, like the water, nourish and maintain all the communities that they touch. When water reaches the sea, it evaporates and returns to the mountains. Correspondingly, the members of foreign gamelan and their musical and pedagogical innovations return to Bali, both literally and figuratively, to influence the very system of knowledge through which they initially learned.
If musical knowledge is like water, the teachers and students of gamelan may be compared to the members of the subak whose effort and devotion are responsible for the continued movement of knowledge. Those musicians closer to the source (Bali) might be considered principal authorities on matters of musical knowledge and its transmission, but teachers cannot instruct without willing students, and gamelans cannot be sustained without economic support from institutions, interested audiences, or devoted teachers. It is a difficult balance, both in and outside Indonesia. In the United States, the vicissitudes of foreign interest and investment in the Indonesian performing arts also create challenges for sustaining the musical communities, as individual streams may dry up, or the teachers who once nourished them may leave, just as the literal Balinese subak system is facing challenges from changing cultural norms in Bali.8 The metaphor air mengalir is particularly tied to a Balinese-lived reality, yet its imagery is a graphic representation of how musical knowledge, like water, can be transmitted and transformed into something useful by careful guardians, even those far away from the source.
Studying the lives and careers of these “subak members”—gamelan teachers—is crucial to understanding how knowledge about gamelan music flows between Indonesian and non-Indonesian communities. Though it is one of the oldest methods of scholarly inquiry, critical biography remains an important approach to understanding transnational gamelan communities. Often a small set of individuals establishes and sustains individual gamelan ensembles. Individuals ultimately provide the connections between communities, continuing their own pedagogical lineages through connecting far-flung musical spaces to create a musical landscape that is distinctly both Indonesian and American.
An increasing amount of technological mediation exists in the Balinese-American gamelan world. Instead of destroying these pedagogical lineages, however, it often reinforces them. For example, gamelan directors such as Lasmawan increasingly use Facebook and websites to post audiovisual materials or to notify musicians and potential audiences about rehearsals and concerts. Even students supplement their musical learning by watching Balinese gamelan videos online. One of Lasmawan’s first American students called this learning “from Pak YouTube.” As such, it represents a mediated variation on the types of artistic observation that the much more geographically proximate Balinese groups would be able to do in person. Though technology provides additional means for communication, the idea of oral transmission from teacher directly to student remains paramount within American gamelan communities.
Examining transnational gamelan music pedagogy in a genealogical fashion not only allows for a greater understanding of how individuals and their ensembles affect broader musical ecosystems, but it also opens the door to further work in charting the movement of specific musical genres, styles, and philosophies from Indonesia to the United States and back again. In doing so, it acknowledges the accumulative nature of post-modern, cosmopolitan identities on the parts of both American and Indonesian musicians whose collaborative engagement with gamelan culture ranges from preservation to transformation. A genealogical history honors the work of those Indonesian performing artists who have dedicated their lives to teaching the next generation of gamelan musicians whose musical contributions will resound not only in Bali or in Java but also throughout the world.
I would like to thank the Indonesian and American performing artists whose work sustains this community and who educate their own “next generations” of musicians and scholars. In particular, I thank I Madé Lasmawan, Ni Ketut Marni, and Putu Hiranmayena for their generosity in welcoming me into their home and sharing their experiences with me.
- 1. This figure is based on my own calculations, drawn from internet searches of country-specific gamelan websites. The primary initial source was the website of the American Gamelan Institute.
- 2. Among these figures are, for example, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Jane Belo, Colin McPhee, Henry Cowell, and Lou Harrison, among others.
- 3. Balinese artists who have been employed while earning degrees from American universities include I Ketut Gedé Asnawa and I Nyoman Wenten. Others, such as I Madé Lasmawan, have also pursued graduate study.
- 4. For a comparison of the benefits and challenges of conservatory training versus training as a seniman alam, see Bakan 1999.
- 5. Brown, an ethnomusicologist, was a key figure in establishing world music programs (and spreading knowledge of gamelan in particular) beginning in the 1960s. He founded the ethnomusicology program at Wesleyan University and the Center for World Music in California, and his recordings of Indonesian music were among those first widely distributed in the United States.
- 6. By “canonical,” this article refers primarily either to tari lepas (“free dance”) pieces that were composed at the end of the twentieth century or to standardized versions of repertoire that traditionally contain some variation between villages (e.g., “Rejang” and “Baris”). Though Gamelan Tunas Mekar in particular performs a more varied set of pieces, Lasmawan favors these standardized versions for his student ensembles. Other Balinese gamelan directors working in the United States approach programming differently based on their own musical backgrounds and preferences. The philosophy of music-making within Balinese society is transmitted through Lasmawan’s pedagogical methods and stories, which he embeds within rehearsal sessions.
- 7. In addition to his activity within the Balinese performing arts, Hiranmayena also performs regularly on drums in rock bands.
- 8. As Lansing notes, the health of the subak system has been increasingly threatened both by the introduction of pesticides to create extra rice production and by encroaching threats to the land for use in large-scale developments that are primarily aimed for a non-Balinese market. Outside influences have also changed the way younger Indonesians (especially those who are not performing artists) engage with traditional culture. From my own experience, this is particularly the case in more cosmopolitan areas, especially in Java (and less so in Bali).