“Hear with the ears, feel with the body,” said I Dewa Made Suparta, Artist-in-Residence of Balinese music and performing arts at Conrad Grebel University College. “You must use your eyes, your brain, and your heart. You must feel your surrounding players. If each player does not connect with the beat, the music cannot breathe together.” As Artistic Director of Grebel’s Balinese Percussion Ensemble course and Community Gamelan Warga Santi, Dewa is preparing for the 10th anniversary concert at the end of the term. The concert is a celebration of a unique branch of music that has flourished and grown within Grebel’s music community.  

Gamelan – an Indonesian term for music ensemble – was introduced to Grebel in 2013 by Maisie Sum, an ethnomusicologist and Associate Professor of Music. “Exposure to the diversity of the world’s cultures through music is a fun and compelling way for people to experience and connect with something new,” she explained. “Balinese gamelan works particularly well because of its communal nature. In this unique, dynamic, and collaborative environment, students are also learning about key aspects of Balinese culture – that community and spirit of interaction are highly valued.” Sum also remarked on the resiliency of the students in her Music Ensemble course and how the supportive nature of the classroom allowed them to help each other and flourish in the exploration and understanding of an unfamiliar cultural practice. “It’s amazing to observe them gradually become familiar and grow comfortable; to see them open not only their ears, but their hearts and minds, too.” 

Originally, Sum invited Dewa for masterclasses and to perform with the music ensemble at the end-of-term concerts. In Fall 2015, he began his residency at the College and has since contributed to various aspects of the music program and Grebel’s core values. “As artist-in-residence, Dewa has elevated our music program. Beyond directing the gamelan ensemble course, he offers music courses that parallel those focused on the Western European Art music tradition, such as a composition course in Balinese music, a music and culture course, and studio courses on Balinese drums and a chamber gamelan,” said Sum. Born in Pengosekan Village to a family renowned for its musical and artistic talents, Dewa brings invaluable expertise as a performing artist, composer, educator, and culture bearer to his role as instructor and artistic director of Balinese gamelan at Grebel. As gamelan began to thrive within the Music Department and Waterloo region, Dewa initiated a new Community Gamelan Ensemble, alongside the regular course ensemble, to accommodate the growing interest and broader participation.  

“Traditionally, Balinese Gamelan is played outside to augment the feeling of the music,” Dewa explained. “Its main characteristic is its tuning system called ngumbang ngisep, which creates a shimmering sound that is felt throughout the audience's body. The other component of Balinese Gamelan is its interlocking nature, referred to as kotekan, which creates the illusion of producing a singular melody despite there being multiple parts.” 

Andrew Beltaos, a member of the Community Gamelan Warga Santi since its inception in 2015, further explained the technicalities of playing gamelan. “The interlocking patterns are a way to split difficult portions of a piece into multiple parts while still sounding as if one person is playing it,” he said. “Gamelan is supposed to be one melody composed of many parts, and some of the sections tend to be very fast, making it difficult for one person to bear the brunt of playing it. The difficulty lies in being in synch with the other players and feeling the rhythm of the music, rather than merely reading notes off a page.” As community members gain more experience with Balinese music, develop their instrument skills, and strengthen their bonds with each other, the repertoire they can perform expands. 

Over the last ten years, the Music Department has supported the introduction of gamelan music in the form of performances and workshops at Grebel, on the greater UWaterloo campus, and in the wider Waterloo region and GTA, including at local music festivals, churches, and elementary and high schools. “An important part of learning the music of other cultures is creating opportunities to do so with culture bearers,” said Sum when regarding Dewa’s residency at Grebel and involvement with community outreach. 

“Another key piece is being able to learn about the music in its cultural context,” Sum continued. In the near future, the Music Department plans to resume their Music and Culture Travel course and offer students the chance to study in Bali, Indonesia. This exciting international opportunity, which has been on hold since the pandemic, will be open to students for credit and to community members.  

The Grebel Music Department at the University of Waterloo invites anyone interested in learning more about Balinese gamelan or wanting to enjoy an evening filled with the unique shimmering sounds of the bronze percussion orchestra to come to the Humanities Theatre in Hagey Hall at 7:30 pm on March 28 for their end of term concert, featuring the UWaterloo Balinese Percussion Ensemble and Grebel’s Community Gamelan Warga Santi, with guest drummer and dancer. 

By Jiho Mercer

Thursday, March 28, 2024 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm EDT (GMT -04:00)

Balinese Percussion Ensemble Concert

Join the UWaterloo Balinese Gamelan and Grebel Community Gamelan Warga Santi in their celebration of 10 years of gamelan music in Waterloo, featuring a special guest artist from Bali, Indonesia, I Putu Arya Deva Suryanegara, and innovative works by renowned composer, inventor, and gong-smith, I Wayan Beratha.