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The Indonesian Angklung: From Village Ritual to Soft Power Diplomacy

fig. 1: Indonesian Angklung

The angklung is a bamboo rattle from West Java, Indonesia. It is an example of an idiophone, an instrument that is struck, scraped, or—as in this case—shaken. Instruments similar to the angklung can be found throughout Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Ethnomusicologists date the use of the angklung in Indonesia to the seventh century CE.

The angklung is constructed by suspending two to four graduated bamboo tubes on a frame (see figure 1), which is shaken vigorously from left to right when the instrument is being played.

The instrument’s creation story points to its importance for agrarian rituals.

While scholars speculate that the rattling of bamboo stalks growing in the forest may have been the inspiration for the instrument, locals tell a legend of the rice goddess:

Desperate that the rice wasn’t growing, the people called upon their leader, who meditated and was instructed by spirit to cut bamboo and make an instrument. Upon hearing the beautiful sound of the bamboo angklung, the rice goddess, Dewi Sri, was pleased. The rice began to grow again.

In any event, a rich history of using the angklung for planting and harvesting ceremonies was established.

Angklung in procession, rice harvest ceremony, West Java | Photo: Onotrapokenifla [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Angklung continue to this day to be played for agrarian rituals and rites of passage. Anklung are also used in parades, at community centers, in Indonesian music education, and for cultural diplomacy initiatives.

Traditionally, angklung were tuned to tritonic (three-note) or tetratonic (four-note) scales. As the angklung has developed, it has been tuned in regional styles of the pentatonic five-tone salendro scale and the West Javanese (Sundanese) madenda and degung scales (both also 5-tone). Angklung are frequently played along with the Sundanese gamelan to accompany dance and puppet theater.

The most common modern angklung has two tubes and produces one pitch, with the longer tube being tuned an octave lower than the shorter tube. Some angklung have three or four tubes and are tuned to sound a chord.

fig. 2: Angklung on Rack

A collection of angklung can be hung on a rack and organized into rows so they can be played by one person (see figure 2). Alternatively, the instruments can be distributed among a group, one per player, in which case they are played in hocket or interlocking fashion, each musician contributing a single tone to the desired pattern or melody (as in a handbell ensemble).

When playing a single angklung, a musician suspends it between the index and middle fingers of the left hand and shakes the bottom of the frame from left to right with the right hand. In an ensemble, angklung is a great tool to introduce Indonesian music and folk songs while fostering group cohesion and cooperation. This is also why angklung has been used as a form of “soft power” cultural diplomacy.

While Indonesia was under Dutch colonial rule during the 1930s, the “father of the angklung,” Daeng Soetigna, experimented with tuning the angklung in Western diatonic and chromatic scales. Diatonic tuning enabled musicians to play Indonesian folk and national tunes, which led to an angklung revival and a widespread interest in the instrument in Indonesian schools and cultural centers.

Since then, angklung music and performance have spread across West Java and globally. This was in large part due to the educational initiatives of Daeng Soetigna’s student, Udjo Ngalagena, who in 1966 created the Saung Angklung Udjo (“Udjo’s House of Anklung“) performance and learning center in Padasuka, Bandung, West Java. Angklung was recognized as an official music education tool by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture on August 23, 1968, and was placed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

15,110 angklung players set Guinness World Record, Jakarta, 2023

Working with the Indonesian government and global embassies, the Saung Angklung Udjo center has coordinated colossal, world-record-breaking angklung events in which thousands of people play together by following cipher (number) notation and Kodály hand signals. These methods, coupled with the accessibility of the angklung, have made it an extremely effective instrument to teach Indonesian arts and culture to groups of children in the classroom or large groups of adults at diplomatic and community events.

Dr. Meghan Hynson is visiting assistant professor of ethnomusicology in the Department of Music, University of San Diego. She is also a teaching artist in the CWM’s World Music in the Schools program. For an expanded treatment of this topic, see Dr. Hynson’s Smithsonian article, cited and linked below.

For Further Reading

Hynson, Meghan. 2015. “Indonesian Angklung: Intersections of Music Education and Cultural Diplomacy” in Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art Online. https://asia-archive.si.edu/essays/article-hynson/

Baier, Randal. 1985/86. “The Angklung Ensemble of West Java: Continuity of an Agricultural Tradition.” Balungan 2(1–2): 9–17.

Perris, Arnold. 1971. “The Rebirth of the Javanese Angklung.” Ethnomusicology 15(3): 403–407.

Kaylie Kirby: Continuing a Legacy of Indonesian Arts

Sharing her love of Indonesian arts through the CWM’s World Music in the Schools program, Kaylie Kirby is patient, passionate, and playful as a teaching artist.

Kaylie is no stranger to Balinese gamelan angklung (metallophone ensemble) in the K–8 classroom. She began her journey with Indonesian music and dance when she was in 5th grade at Museum School, the school in which she now teaches young students. There she studied Balinese gamelan and dance with master teachers I Nyoman Sumandhi and Ni Putu Sutiati, who were CWM distinguished visiting artists in San Diego back in the early 2000s. You can learn more about her full-circle performing arts journey from this feature story on our website.

After her first exposure to Indonesian arts as a 5th grader, Kaylie continued her studies, attending after-school classes in Balinese dance. Later, she joined Puspa Warsa, an ensemble of advanced students organized by former CWM teaching artists Alex Khalil and Kaori Okado. With that group, Kaylie performed all over Southern California for numerous universities and festivals, and on television.

Kaylie with daughter

She later studied under other Balinese masters, including I Nyoman Wenten, renowned Balinese musician and dancer, at CalArts and UCLA. In 2018–19, she was a member of the Balinese gamelan angklung ensemble Gunung Mas at the University of San Diego, directed by Dr. David Harnish.

Today Kaylie finds joy in sharing her passion for Indonesian music and culture, especially as her own children are now enrolled in the program at Museum School in San Diego’s Bankers Hill neighborhood.

Meghan Hynson: Sharing the Music and Culture of Indonesia

Image of Meghan Hynson in Bali Holding an Angklung

Meghan Hynson with angklung in Java

Meghan Hynson was first exposed to Balinese gamelan (gong ensemble) while studying for her undergraduate degree in music education and oboe performance at Boston University. Intrigued by the sound of the gamelan, she soon began studying Indonesian ensemble music, took private lessons on Balinese gendèr wayang (metallophone duo or quartet), and was awarded a scholarship to travel to Bali to follow her passion for Indonesian music and culture.

She eventually earned her MA and PhD in ethnomusicology at UCLA, writing her dissertation on Balinese shadow puppet theater. Having taught at Duquesne University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Monmouth University, Dr. Hynson is currently adjunct assistant professor of ethnomusicology at the University of San Diego, where she directs the Balinese gamelan ensemble and teaches courses in global music.

Fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of that multi-cultured nation, Dr. Hynson has spent over a decade living and studying in Southeast Asia. In 2019, Dr. Hynson toured internationally as a vocalist for the Indonesian pop band, the Dangdut Cowboys, under the invitation of the U.S. State Department. She typically spends several months each year at her second home in Mas Village, Bali, doing research and furthering her study of the island’s rich traditions.

Image of Meghan Hynson in Classroom

Meghan Hynson in San Diego classroom

During her career, Dr. Hynson has developed world music curricula and outreach programs for K-12 schools, worked with major museums and international world music festivals, and spoken out for global diversity through music via campus and community activities.

As a teaching artist with the CWM’s World Music in the Schools program, Dr. Hynson teaches Balinese gamelan angklung and Indonesian angklung rattles.

Teaching Artist Matthew Clough-Hunter

The Center for World Music is delighted to profile World Music in the Schools teaching artist Matthew Clough-Hunter.

Matthew Clough-Hunter is a Los Angeles-based performer, composer, and educator who specializes in several Balinese gamelan traditions including angklung, gong kebyar, gendèr wayang, gambuh, kecak, and gamut. He is a member of several gamelan ensembles based in Southern California: Burat Wangi, a community-based gamelan at CalArts directed by I Nyoman Wenten; Merdu Kumala, a community-based gamelan founded by Hirotaka Inuzuka and directed by Matthew that teaches gamelan workshops and performs throughout the country; Giri Kusuma, a gong kebyar ensemble affiliated with Pomona College; and Sekaa Gambuh, an ensemble that specializes in an ancient repertoire played with meter-long bamboo flutes.

Recently, Matthew taught gamelan at Opus 6 (a summer camp program organized by the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra), participated in Performing Indonesia at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., and performed with renowned Indonesian guitarist Balawan.

Matthew earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in World Music with a focus on Indonesian music and composition, and a BFA from Denison University in Music Performance on jazz guitar. Outside of his work in the realm of gamelan, Matthew enjoys songwriting and performing. His songs can be found under the artist name “Cloudhopper” on streaming sites such as Spotify. Music composition, performance, and education are among the strongest driving forces in Matthew’s life, and he feels “so happy when [he] can excite someone about the possibilities of their input in music.”

Matthew Clough-Hunter and Hirotaka Inuzuka performing gender wayang

Gamelan Merdu Kumala performing at the 2022 Balinese Gamelan Festival in Colorado

Kaylie Kirby: A Full Circle Experience

Student Kaylie in Museum School class (back right)

In 1999, Kaylie took her first class in Balinese gamelan and dance at Museum School in San Diego. It was a new charter school with a new vision: to incorporate music and other creative arts—seen as fundamental to child development—into the standard curriculum. The Museum School reached out to the Center for World Music (CWM) for help. It was the very first year of the CWM’s youth education program, World Music in the Schools, and the beginning of what would become some of the organization’s most rewarding work: matching accomplished and experienced teaching artists to residency programs within San Diego area K–12 schools.

Kaylie Kirby was in 5th grade when the Balinese gamelan program was initiated at Museum School, where she studied under I Nyoman Sumandhi (music) and Ni Putu Sutiati (dance), and later Alex Khalil (music) and Kaori Okado (dance). Training in music and dance was offered to students at Museum School, which at the time included 3rd through 6th grade. There was also an after-school program for intermediate and advanced students. Kaylie thrived in this program, taking lessons during school hours and participating in the after-school program during her years attending Museum School.

Kaylie with daughter

Upon graduation from 6th grade, Kaylie continued her involvement with the Museum School’s gamelan and dance program by attending weekly rehearsals after school. Alex and Kaori had created a performing group with the advanced students called Puspa Warsa, in which Kaylie had the opportunity to perform for numerous universities, festivals, and news stations all over Southern California for several years.

Throughout this time, she continued to assist with the intermediate students’ after-school program at Museum School. She also had the opportunity to study under other Balinese masters, including Dr. I Nyoman Wenten, renowned Balinese musician and dancer, at CalArts and UCLA. In 2018–19, she was a member of the Balinese gamelan anklung ensemble at the University of San Diego, directed by Dr. David Harnish. 

Fast forward to today: Kaylie is once again sharing her expertise and passion for Balinese arts as a teaching artist of the gamelan classes at Museum School! While she was a student there, Kaylie’s daughter had the opportunity to play alongside her mother as a member of this ensemble that has been going strong since 1999.

This is a true full-circle story that humbly reminds us that the work we do and have been doing for decades in the CWM’s World Music in the Schools program is valuable, important, and to many, life-changing.

Welcome back, Kaylie!

Gamelan Project Article by Alex Khalil

Alex Khalil’s Gamelan Project Smithsonian Article

Gamelan aficionados and music educators alike with find much of interest in this great Smithsonian article on the value of music education for kids by Center for World Music board member Alexander Khalil, PhD. Dr. Khalil offers important observations on attention in children, impaired temporal processing, ADHD, and the benefits of bi-musicality.

Our research has found a connection between the ability to synchronize with an ensemble in a gamelan-like setting and other cognitive characteristics, particularly the ability to focus and maintain attention. Our current work explores whether improvements at interpersonal time processing, or synchrony, may translate into improved attention.

Also of interest in this article is Alex’s account of the history of the Center for World Music’s World Music in the Schools program, based on his experience as a founding instructor during and after the program’s 1999 inauguration in San Diego at the Museum School:

The gamelan program at the Museum School has its philosophical roots in [pioneering ethnomusicologist] Mantle Hood’s well-known concept of “bi-musicality.” Just as one who is bi-lingual must have fluency in more than one language, one must be fluent in more than one musical language to be considered bi-musical. Robert E. Brown, who studied under Hood at UCLA and subsequently founded the Center for World Music, made his first efforts to bring world music, a term he is credited with having invented, to the elementary classroom in 1973 through his “world music in the schools” program in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read the full text of Alex’s Gamelan Project article on the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Asian Art website.

Find out more about Dr. Khalil’s work at UCSD’s Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center.

Hirotaka Inuzuka

The Center Welcomes Gamelan Artist Hirotaka Inuzuka to World Music in the Schools

We extend a warm welcome to Hirotaka Inuzuka, who joins World Music in the Schools as a teaching artist. Hirotaka will be Balinese gamelan instructor at the San Diego French American school, beginning this fall.

A specialist in Indonesian gamelan music, Hirotaka began playing Balinese gamelan during his undergraduate studies in Ethnomusicology at UCLA. He continued to deepen his knowledge of Indonesian music and dance at California Institute of the Arts under the mentorship of I Nyoman Wenten, where he earned his MFA in World Music Performance. He continues to travel to Bali regularly to expand his expertise and study with Bali’s most renowned artists and teachers.

Currently Hirotaka is a prominent member of many gamelan groups in the greater Los Angeles area, such as Burat Wangi, Pandan Arum, and Bhuwana Kumala. He has performed in the United States, Japan, and Bali, participating in events such as the Bali Arts Festival and Bali Mandara Mahalango. In October of 2014, he played as part of Performing Indonesia at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Hirotaka has taught gamelan privately, as well as at workshops and community classes in Southern California, including the “Music of Bali” series at Art Share LA in 2014 and at Glendale Community College in 2015. In 2014, he established Sekaa Gambuh Los Angeles, a group dedicated to play the music of Gambuh dance drama. Facing extinction due to Bali’s modernization, Gambuh is one of the oldest surviving Balinese dance forms.

With his focus on teaching and performing gamelan music, Hirotaka has opened his own community gamelan studio in Tujunga, California, where he teaches and trains new players in order to further the preservation and performance of gamelan music in North America.

See Hirotaka Inuzuka on YouTube: Interview and Profile | Hirotaka’s YouTube Home Page

Fond Farewell to Putu Hiranmayena

We are pleased to share that Putu Hiranmayena, Balinese gamelan musician and much loved teaching artist for the Center for World Music, will be pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Ethnomusicology in the fall of 2015.

To help bid Putu a happy journey we asked Phil Beaumont, Director of the Museum School and David Harnish, Ph.D., Chair and Professor, Music Department, University of San Diego, to write a few words on their experiences working with Putu.

When one walks into the classroom, whether young or old, one can immediately feel the essence of Putu’s passion for Balinese gamelan and, in particular, teaching it to children. HIs smile is contagious, and sets a tone for our students to learn to love the intricate music they play. Putu understands that music is meant to be enjoyed and to be a part of who we are. After teaching students the many possible variations of a piece, he allows them to take ownership as a group and develop their own arrangements for performance. In doing so, he has captured them as musicians, and they can then capture their audience. A true gift.

— Phil Beaumont, Director of the Museum School

 

For me, I Putu Adi Tangkas Hiranmayena just showed up. I had no idea that other parties (e.g., Alex Khalil, The Museum School, the CWM, and his father [I Made Lasmawan]) had played a part in bringing him to San Diego. Putu contacted me out of the blue, told me he was the son of Pak Lasmawan (a good friend), and volunteered to join the USD Gamelan Ensemble, which I had just started the previous year. What a stroke of luck! Putu had not done a lot of work directing ensembles before coming to San Diego, but he was a skilled musician and drummer and knew a number of tunes. I immediately arranged a stipend for him, and later asked that he direct our gamelan (Balinese gamelan angklung), which he did for two years.

I saw him blossom into a fine and dynamic director, adding his own innovative ideas here and there to the repertoire. He communicated well with our students and got everyone excited about playing as he increased the tempo. He also demanded that students play with precision. We at USD will really miss him and I will personally miss him a lot, but I am very proud of his accomplishments and know he will be in good hands at University of Illinois, where he will team with I Ketut Gede Asnawa and the ethnomusicology faculty. His ideas of metal and gamelan and contemporary music may come further to fruition. Hopefully, we will all see him again some day back in San Diego. I intend to visit him in Bali as well and to meet him at ethnomusicological conferences.

— David Harnish, Ph.D., Chair and Professor, Music Department, University of San Diego

 

putuhiranmeyaWe always knew Putu would one day continue his formal education in ethnomusicology and experimental arts academia. The Center for World Music bids him the best in all of his future endeavors, and thanks him for his contributions to our musical and cultural efforts in San Diego.

While pursuing his Ph.D., Putu will continue work in Balinese gamelan, improvisation, and high adrenaline activities. This includes development of theories in embodiment and creative practices. He hopes to start a gamelan ensemble emphasizing real-time composition.