Exotic gamelan in concert at Maryville College on Oct. 10

October 2, 2002

It's not the sounds of gongs, xylophones or metallophones that people expect to hear drifting from the foothills of the Chilhowee Mountains, but on Oct. 10, that's exactly what attendees of a gamelan concert will experience.

The concert, open to the public, will take place on the grounds outside the Fine Arts Center on the Maryville College campus. The performance, given by music students from Western Carolina University, begins at 8 p.m., and admission is free.

"The gamelan is such an exotic thing for East Tennessee," explained Dr. Robert Bonham, Maryville College professor of music. "To have a concert here featuring the gamelan is so incredibly rare - I doubt this has ever happened before in Blount County."

According to Dr. Will Peebles of WCU's music department, a gamelan is "an orchestra of tuned metal percussion instruments characteristic of Java, Bali, Malaysia and other island cultures off the coast of Southeast Asia."

Peebles said only about 150 gamelans are in active performance in the United States, and fewer than a dozen are owned in the Southeast.

"Each gamelan has its own name, its own tuning system and its own distinctive personality," he said.

WCU's Gamelan Kyai Tatit Ratri means "venerable night lightning," which reflects the instrument's original purpose, Peebles explained.

"It was built in 1984 for use at KUSC, the campus radio station of the University of Santa Cruz in California," he said. "The gongs and keys were made in Yogyakarta (Central Java), but the stands and resonators were made by its California owner."

The group will also play on a set of tuned bamboo rattles known as angklung.

Bonham met Peebles during a College Music Society workshop on non-Western music held in San Diego many years ago. Bonham said they have kept in touch, and when he learned the group would be presenting at a symposium on world music at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, he saw an opportunity to introduce the instruments to the Maryville College community and wider Blount County community.

"It's wonderful music, very different than Western music," Bonham said. "For example, the downbeat is on the last beat, so it's destination-oriented. The last note of a [musical] piece is the most important one.

"The music is very rhythmic, too," he added. "It may sound improvised, but it's actually highly structured."

Bonham said there are no solos for people performing in a gamelan.

"The music reflects the nature of the community - all parts interlock," he said.

For more information on the gamelan, visit www.gamelan.org.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2014 semester is 1,213.