Balinese Gamelan Gong Kebyar

1 07 2007

The London Symphony Orchestra hold music workshops for deaf and hard of hearing people, to give them the opportunity to try out instruments and play music with tutors, with appropriate communication support.

The LSO hold gamelan concerts at St Lukes in north London. Gamelan are Bali instruments, first heard in 1915, and used to accompany many kinds of dance. Gamelan uses a five-note scale derived from Javanese pelog. Metallophones are played in pairs with one tuned slightly higher than the other. When both play the same note, the pronounced vibrato gives a shimmering sonority characteristic of Balinese gamelan music.

gamelan room 1

Their most recent music workshop allowed a group of deaf people to play the gamelan and experiment with the sounds they make….a fantastic experience. We had two signers who communicated what the tutor was saying. The tutor explained all the instruments, how and why they were different, demonstrated the sounds they made and how they were of different pitches, and how to play them. We had to remove our shoes as we played sitting on the floor. We were asked not to step over the instruments, a sign of respect in Indonesia as it is considered very rude to show the sole of your foot to anyone, including musical instruments.

Here, some of the group are playing mettalophones – the gangsa kantilan at the back and gangsa pemade at the front. The gangsa kantilan are the highest register gangsa, one octave higher than pemade. It is important to hit the instrument with the mallet that is next to it, to hit it in the right place, and not to hit it too hard, otherwise the instrument could be damaged and sent out of tune.

gamelan group

I thought these ceng-ceng were cute….. although I didn’t appreciate their musical output!


I enjoyed playing the kendang, it’s pretty heavy though 🙂


There are three gongs, the large vertical gong has the lowest pitch and is played with a soft mallet, the medium sized kempur is pitched higher, and the small vertical klentong is high pitched and played with a hard mallet. All great fun!


The kempli is played on the boss with a hard mallet and this keeps the beat for all 25 players. This is a nice instrument to play as I could sit there, concentrate on keeping time, but also enjoy listening to the music being made around me.


The reyong looked like old saucepans! These are horizontal gongs played by four musicians, each using a pair of mallets.


Gamelan dancers wear masks – here are a couple!



There are no soloists in a gamelan group and everyone learns to play all the instruments. The music is learned by ear and parts are simple and easy to memorise. Basic instructions are given by musical cues and players have to know how their part fits in with the whole. Complete beginners can very quickly learn a basic piece and begin to make music together. There are lots of places in the UK where you can see, hear and play gamelan.

The LSO offer gamelan lessons and their next gamelan concert is in November 2007. I can’t wait.





One response

7 07 2007

this looks really interesting.
Reminds me of Thailand

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