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Rehearsal and performance practice

Rehearsal practices

Balinese music is essentially an oral tradition. Notated music is not normally used; a system of numbers may be used to help learn pieces in rehearsal (for example, numbering the notes of a slendro scale as notes 1-5), but pieces are mostly learned by being heard, and the performance is expected to be given from memory.

Ensemble cooperation

Any group of musicians that is playing together must cooperate to some extent, but the level of cooperation exhibited in some gamelan playing is truly remarkable. Western music, whether popular or classical, has a tendency to feature soloists, who are usually expected to deliver the melody with some personal flair and even flamboyance, while being "backed up" by less interesting parts in the rest of the ensemble. Balinese music has the opposite tendency; soloing is much less common, and even when a player does have a crucial individual responsibility, such as a drummer who is leading a group, it is the skilled performance that does not draw too much personal attention to the player that is considered the most outstanding display of musicianship.

In modern times, large gamelan are often owned by the community, and the playing of the instruments is seen as an activity that is both of and for the community. Playing in the gamelan is considered a privilege, and community members who do not play in the group may support the ensemble in other ways, such as designing costumes.

This emphasis on cooperation is seen in many different aspects of gamelan playing. Some instruments, such as the larger gong chimes, require more than one person to play a single instrument. In other cases, two instruments of the same type, played by two different people on the same part at the same time, are absolutely necessary to get the desired tuning effect (see Listening to Balinese Gamelan ). Drum parts may be so fast and complex that they require two drummers playing in extremely close cooperation.

This emphasis on the cooperative aspects of playing reaches its most impressive height in the playing style called kotekan , in which very fast, elaborate versions of the melody, which are so technically difficult that they cannot physically be played by a single player, are divided between two players playing the same kind of instrument, who play alternating notes in such close cooperation that they sound like a single player. (See Listening to Balinese Gamelan for more about kotekan .)

Acknowledgments and suggestions for further study

Photographs, audio, and video recordings are all courtesy of the University of Illinois School of Music and The Robert E. Brown Center for World Music of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign . Special thanks go to gamelan instructor and artistic director I Ketut Gede Asnawa.

Thanks also to the Asnawa family and to all of the University of Illinois students and professors who participated in the Fall 2007 Balinese Music and Dance Concert at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, for their cooperation in preparing the photos, videos, and audio recordings accompanying this lesson: including dancers Yonitika Asnawa, Yunirika Asnawa, Norshahida Ismail, Samantha C. Jones, Dewidiari Rachman, Ya-Han Tsui, Justina Whelchel, and musicians I Ketut Gede Asnawa, Putu O. Mardiani Asnawa, Tarika Asnawa, Yonitika Asnawa, Yunirika Asnawa, Taylor Briggs, James Bunch, Vincent Calianno, Joel Caracci, Samuel Carroll, Fang-chi Chang, Rosa Chang, Meghann Clancy, Philip Clark, Mark Eichenberger, Joshua Hunt, Justin Kothenbeutel, Mackenzie Martin, Andrew McBeath, Ayu Putu Niastarika, Christopher Nolte, Zackary Penckofer, Matthew Plaskota, James Price, Dewidiari Rachman, I Wayan Rachman, Christopher E. Reyman, Nur Syahida Mohd Shafei, Ahmad Azlan Shahrudin, Shahira Tunnaww Mohd Sharkar, Otto Stuparitz, Stephen Taylor, Priscilla Tse, Shane Wirkes, and Philip Yampolsky.

The music of Bali is a large subject, and only the major points that will help introduce it to the new Western listener are touched upon here. For a more technical introduction to the music played by these ensembles, including information on scales, tuning, form, and texture, please see Listening to Balinese Gamelan: A Beginners' Guide . For classroom activities that allow students to explore important aspects of gamelan music, please see Form in Gamelan Music , Gamelan-Style Melodic Elaboration , Coordinating Music and Dance , and Kotekan . For more in-depth information on the subject, the following books are recommended.

  • Gold, Lisa. Music in Bali: experiencing music, expressing culture . Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • McPhee, C. Music in Bali . Yale University Press, 1966.
  • Tenzer, Michael. Balinese Music . Periplus Editions, Berkeley and Singapore, 1991.

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Source:  OpenStax, Musical travels for children. OpenStax CNX. Jan 06, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10221/1.11
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