Study Intensive in Bandung, West Java

Posted by Lucas Oickle on Thursday, April 24, 2014
Next month (May 2014), I extremely fortunate to be taking part in a 14-day Sundanese study intensive in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, where I will be studying kacapi suling and gamelan degung with master Sundanese musician Ade Suparman [ ].

I was fortunate enough to first meet Ade last spring (spring 2013) in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where I was just finishing my B.Mus. at Acadia University. I was playing with the Acadia Gamelan Ensemble at that time, directed by Canadian percussionist-composer Ken Shorley ], and Ade was invited to come work with us as our Artist-in-residence (this was actually the 2nd time he had worked with the group, but only my 1st time as I had just started learning about gamelan the year before). In addition to having Ade work with us and teach us new pieces (both traditional and one that he himself had composed), I was fortunate enough to take a series of suling lessons with him (Indonesian end-blown bamboo flute).

I have since started playing Balinese gamelan at UBC, where I'm now pursuing my M.Mus. in composition. In addition to playing with the UBC Balinese Gamelan class, I'm also a member of Gamelan Gita Asmara, taught by Dr. Michael Tenzer ]. I have missed Sundanese gamelan, however, and play my suling degung almost every day. I am thus thrilled to be able to learn more about Sundanese gamelan once more, and within it's original cultural and geological environment.

In addition to being thankful to Ken for the invitation to take part in this study intensive, I am immensely grateful to the Nova Scotia Talent Trust [ ] for their extremely generous $1500 scholarship towards my participation in this wonderful study intensive. It really means the world to me that I can go to the other side of the planet to study and receive such momentous support from my home province. With this financial support, I will now be able to take in these studies to the absolute fullest, and I will always be thankful to the NSTT for being so instrumental in allowing me to finally experience gamelan in it's place of origin.

[ The following is taken from my original statement to the NSTT, when applying for their scholarship: ]

Though it is now possible to study gamelan in North America and elsewhere, there is of course no substitute for experiencing it within it's original geographic and cultural context – and as taught by a trained Sundanese musician. Even Dr. Tenzer of UBC who has played, taught and performed Balinese gamelan for almost 40 years, has made it clear to us playing with Gamelan Gita Asmara that there is no substitute for an actual Indonesian musician who has heard the music around them essentially since birth.

Inevitably, as a composer, playing gamelan music has deeply influenced my compositional vocabulary. On the 'surface', it's already prompted me to write three pieces which are deeply influenced and inspired by Sundanese music:

Embat kuwi digawa mati (2012) for gamelan degung
premiered by the Acadia Gamelan Ensemble, directed by Ken Shorley

(2013) for solo organ
premiered by Michael Gnemmi at the Acadia University Chapel

Prelude and Soundscape (2013)
for suling / violin / piano / Indonesian percussion
premiered in the Fall of 2013 at the UBC School of Music

On the 'sub-surface', it's also left less obvious impressions. Gamelan music gives perspective on an entirely different system of harmony and structure, not to mention form, timbre and tuning. Having grown up within the North American wind band system (being a saxophonist, and having spent 2 summers employed as a military musician), I've become somewhat disenchanted with the concept of practicing pieces with the intent of performing them the same way every time (though, to avoid any misunderstandings, I still love wind band music). With gamelan music though, I feel the experience is much more communal – there are aspects of improvisation and freedom, open repeats and indeterminacy. Often, there is no music written anywhere – it is an aurally taught music, and everything is memorized (while the instruments like the suling are perhaps embellishing or quasi-improvising overtop).

Ultimately, to have the chance to finally experience this music – which has inspired me ever since first hearing it at Acadia – in its traditional context, in Indonesia, will inevitably give my own music and my own compositions so much more healthy perspective, which I could otherwise acquire in no other way.

- April 2014

With sincere and gracious thanks to the Nova Scotia Talent Trust:

Tags: nstt "nova scotia talent trust" "ade suparman" "ken shorley" 

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