About Us

The Department of Music at the Pittsburgh is home to a dynamic and burgeoning program of Indonesian performing arts. The Department of music houses a complete gamelan, a 40-piece musical ensemble comprised of predominantly percussion instruments including tuned gongs, metal-keyed instruments, and drums (as well as bowed lute and voice). 

Under the direction of Andrew Weintraub, Associate Professor of Music, the University Gamelan program has developed into one of the leading American university programs for the study and performance of Sundanese music, dance, and theater.

By participating in gamelan classes offered through the Department of Music, students are introduced to new ways of thinking about, playing, and performing the music of Indonesia.  Through the arts, students are encouraged to pursue a greater understanding of Indonesian culture, history, and society. During the past six years, hundreds of university students have learned to play the instruments of the gamelan ensemble, and thousands of people have been exposed to Indonesian music, dance, and theater in concerts, workshops, lecture-demonstrations, and public school outreach programs.

Each year the Department of Music sponsors a series of educational and artistic events that are intended to increase public awareness of the arts and cultures of Indonesia.  Guest artists from Indonesia are invited to serve as teachers and artists-in-residence for a period of several weeks. Artists participate in regular gamelan classes and rehearsals, and present public lectures, workshops, lecture-demonstrations, and concerts during their residencies.

The modern nation of Indonesia consists of 13,000 islands (of which a few thousand are populated), the fourth largest population in the world, hundreds of ethnic groups, and nearly as many languages spoken. The cultural and musical diversity of this modern island community is staggering. Outside Indonesia, perhaps the most well-known musical ensemble type is gamelan. Gamelan refers to a set of predominantly percussion instruments including tuned gongs, metal-keyed instruments, and drums (as well as bowed lute and voice). Gamelan music is played as accompaniment to dance, drama, puppet theater, and martial arts, as well as for concerts of listening music. Gamelan is performed for special occasions and to mark important life cycle events.

Regional gamelan styles are played by different ethnic groups on the islands of Java, Madura, Bali, and Lombok. The University of Pittsburgh gamelan ensemble plays the music of the Sundanese people, who number approximately 30 million people and inhabit a large area in West Java. The Sundanese share a common language and culture. While the majority of the population live in rural or semi-rural settings, urban patronage networks actively support the performing arts. Bandung, the fourth largest city in Indonesia, is home to many of the most prominent Sundanese musicians, dancers, and composers.

All Sundanese dance genres share certain traits including the prominent drumming, manner of stepping, and graceful arm gestures. In dance music, the drummer accompanies the movements of the dance by playing corresponding sound patterns for each movement. Each gamelan has a unique tuning and character--instruments in one set are tuned to each other and are not generally interchangeable with instruments from other sets. Gamelan sets are often named to reflect their individual character. The University of Pittsburgh gamelan, which arrived in October, 1995, is named appropriately "Kyai Tirta Rukmi," or "Venerable Rivers of Gold." The gamelan is actually comprised of two sets of instruments, and each set is tuned to a different intervallic structure (laras).

Each instrument is associated with one of four primary musical functions or roles, which contribute to the rich polyphonic layering or strata of sound.  Instrumental functions include 1) structural melody (saron I and saron II), 2) elaboration (panerus, peking, bonang, rincik, and gambang), 3) punctuation (ketuk, kenong and goong) and 4) time-keeper (kendang). In vocal pieces, the instrumentalists play an accompaniment to the female vocalist (pasinden) and male vocalist (juru alok). The player of the two-stringed spike fiddle (rebab) reinforces the vocal line of the singer in a heterophonic manner.

The University gamelan group is composed of Pitt students, CMU students and community members. The participants in the gamelan program are encouraged to use Sundanese processes of learning as much as possible; oral transmission of musical parts is preferred over written notation. Students are also encouraged to learn and play more than one instrument and to learn the relationships among them. Therefore, in our concerts, the musicians move from one position to another in order to put into practice what they have learned. The University of Pittsburgh Music Department offers classes in gamelan and African music and dance as part of its program in Ethnomusicology.