Brian in New York City Gamelan visit
Latihan Gamelan Kusuma Laras Dec 2015 – Brian Lim
On 18th December 2015, I had the privilege of attending a latihan (rehearsal) with Gamelan Kusuma Laras in New York City.
Upon arriving, I was warmly welcomed and introduced everyone, and we promptly started the latihan proper. I seated myself at a saron demung and found myself surrounded by musicians of various experience levels, Americans and Indonesians alike.
We started with Gendhing Gambirsawit, slendro sanga, a somewhat medium-lengthed piece. A gendhing typically has at least two sections, the merong and inggah, each of which can be repeated.
Gendhing Gambirsawit, slendro sanga
This piece was somewhat challenging for me, as I was not too familiar with the gendhing form, and how it moved from section to section. The musicians around me were encouraging and I always managed to figure out where we were in the music by consulting someone mid-piece or simply deducing the balungan (melody) from the elaborating instruments.
After a while I was able to settle down and listen more “big-picture”, and I was able to follow the elaborating instruments such as the saron peking and bonang concurrently with the balungan, and it became much easier to “go with the flow”.
Following that, we moved on to Gendhing Cucurbawuk, an ambitiously complex and long piece with many sections. Even the more advanced players were a little hesitant, but we were determined to give it our best shot.
Throughout the piece, whenever we seemed to get lost, the teacher Pak Harjito (who was on the kendhang) would shout out the note numbers, or the section names to us, but he never got frustrated with us. Instead he would give us a gleeful smile when we got it right.
We managed to put together a decidedly admirable gendhing cucurbawuk despite our initial reservations.
Gendhing Cucurbawuk, slendro manyura, not by us.
Then, it was time for a break. I was expecting a short break for us to get a drink of water or visit the washroom, but I was instead whisked away along with everyone else to the basement, where there was a table laden with Indonesian dishes such as sambal telur (hard boiled eggs in sambal chilli sauce) and sayur lodeh (stewed vegetables in coconut milk curry), cooked by one of the Indonesian Ibus.
It seems this was normal practice for the musicians to break right in the middle of latihan for a communal Indonesian dinner, and I felt right at home with the home-cooked food and great company.
Following dinner, we played a few simpler pieces, that included Lancaran Dara Muluk, “a children’s piece”, as described by Pak Harjito. An interesting feature of this piece is that while most of the music is set in slendro sanga, the gerong (vocal) part makes use of some notes set in barang miring, which typically is used to evoke a feeling of sadness. (Notes in barang miring are flattened slendro notes, which approximate notes in pelog)
Lancaran Dara Muluk, slendro sanga by University Gajah Madah – Try to identify the notes of the vocal part, which sometimes do not fit with the notes that (most) of the other instruments play.
I had a great time with Gamelan Kusuma Laras, and I’m especially grateful for Pak Harjito, Anne Stebinger and Stuart Frankel for allowing me to join in the latihan.
For more information about Gamelan Kusuma Laras, visit their website: