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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 this article on the Smithsonian Freer Sackler website.

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

And here’s a nice video documenting the ongoing gamelan program at the Museum School.

Alex Khalil

Alex Khalil: A Neurocomputational Ethnomusicologist (Yes, really!)

A Supercomputer Center is an unconventional place to find an ethnomusicologist. Yet, this is where we find Dr. Alex Khalil, an unconventional musician-scholar in whom the disjunct worlds of musicology and neural computation converge. This makes him, in a word, “eccentric.” No, not the “zany, frizzy-haired and absent-minded genius” type of eccentric. (Well, the “genius” likely applies, though Alex would deny it vehemently.) Rather, he is eccentric in that he makes a habit of pursuing those questions that carry him far beyond the comfortable center of any one world of standard practice or academic discipline.

Alex Khalil performing on gender wayang

Balinese Gender Wayang Performance, Seaport Village

Alex holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Music Composition and Performance from CalArts and a PhD with an emphasis in ethnomusicology from U.C. San Diego. He has spent more than twenty years conducting research on several Asian musics (primarily those of China, Japan, and Indonesia), speaks Mandarin and Indonesian, plays a host of traditional instruments (specializing in Balinese gamelan and Chinese guqin), and has worked extensively with the Center for World Music for over three decades, including stints as Executive Director and Teaching Artist in Residence. His current post? Project scientist at UCSD’s Institute for Neural Computation and research fellow for the Temporal Dynamics in Learning Center. How did this happen?

What may appear as a dramatic career shift is really a natural continuation, a fulfillment of Alex’s varied abilities and ideas that were sparked while he was teaching in the CWM’s Balinese gamelan program, which he established alongside Center founder Robert Brown back in 1999. In gamelan, rhythmic precision and tight group synchrony are vital. Gradually, Alex noticed that most children synchronized relatively easily, while a few struggled. “It clearly wasn’t for a lack of effort, nor did it correlate with their musical ability in anything other than rhythm. This was strange.” He later discovered that all of these struggling students also had attention deficits. Through further testing he established a definitive correlation between attention and rhythmic timing.  

Further study could show that musical practice might facilitate improvement, not just in musical timing but beyond gamelan and into interpersonal communication, which is also fundamentally rhythmic.

“Attention is dynamic, that is, changing in time, and so it is rhythmic in nature.” Alex believes that developing proficiency in music, especially rhythm, may improve communication skills in children with ADHD or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and perhaps even for all children. His road from the classroom to scientific research has been a long and difficult one, but it is starting to pay off. Recently, he and partnering institutions were awarded a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation (Science of Learning Center) to further study synchrony in group brain dynamics. “If the hypothesis is true,” he says, “we have an army of skilled music teachers who can offer help.”

“We tend to wonder what happens when music is included in cognitive development, but a musical brain is a normal brain . . . and music just isn’t in our lives in the same ways it used to be.”

Alex Khalil embodies the heart of what the CWM promotes in its youth education program, World Music in the Schools: we solve problems better when we are skilled at listening and acting across the boundaries between cognitive worlds, even those that seem so stubbornly divergent as “science” and “the arts.” Something as seemingly simple as learning an unfamiliar musical style can, in a sense, make us bilingual. Nine-year old Olivia, a gamelan student from The Museum School, makes this crystal-clear when she says that “it’s fun to learn another culture’s music because then you can kind of speak with them, in a way.” You’re right Olivia!  

Cultural fluency can be fun, and, as Alex demonstrates, it can also provide a lens for viewing and solving old problems in new ways.

alexkhalil-1200x627

Japanese Shakuhachi Performance, USD

Speaking of cultural fluency, can you guess Alex’s central passion since childhood? It’s unlikely that Byzantine chant came to mind. But for Alex, who still frequently performs as a cantor in a Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego, this is not just another thing he does. Just as gamelan rhythms might improve communication skills, on a cognitive level our various activities don’t stay in neat compartments as we might expect.

The many worlds in which we participate converge, integrate, and become the world we know.

As we depart the supercomputer center where we found Alex Khalil, our world has already grown. But it also imparts a question, really a personal challenge: how will you expand your horizons today?

Read an article written by Alex on the value of music education for kids for The Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art here.

Learn more about the CWM’s World Music in the Schools gamelan program at the Museum School here.

—James Gutierrez, Center for World Music Board Member

Java Gong Foundry

West Java’s Guardian ‘Gong-Makers’

In a photo essay, the Jakarta Post reflects on the only remaining gong foundry in West Java . . .

At 89, Sukarna still has an ear for gong tones. He also still lends a hand at his workshop on Jalan Pancasan in Bogor, West Java. No one else can tune a gong like he can, it is said.

For six generations, his family has made gongs by hand at the factory, which has been in the same place for two centuries.

Sukarna has more than 50 years’ experience at the factory, the oldest — and now the only one left . . .

Read the full article at TheJakartaPost.com.

Gamelan Sekar Jaya LA

“Gamelan Weekend” in LA: Gamelan Sekar Jaya Workshop and Concert, Feb 21-22

For lovers of Balinese music and dance, this will be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a “hands-on” workshop and concert. The Music Center in downtown LA will host the Saturday, February 21 workshop and the concert on Sunday the 22nd.

Gamelan Sekar Jaya is internationally recognized as “the finest Balinese gamelan ensemble outside of Indonesia” (TempoMagazine). True to Balinese tradition, the Bay Area-based musicians and dancers learn the complex musical figurations and elaborate choreographies through intensive training with master teachers. The orchestra is composed of bronze metallophones, bamboo marimbas, tuned gongs, drums and flutes which the musicians play with technical precision and collective spirit. The performance includes the masked dance of Jauk Manis, the “sweet demon” character who is both mischievous and endearing.

Both events are free, but the Saturday workshop has limited space and an RSVP is required.

Cup of Java

Cup of Java: Gamelan Music & Dance from Yogyakarta, Nov. 29 in LA

Looks like a first-rate performance of Javanese court music and dance, featuring ten dancers from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI), Yogyakarta, and musicians from CalArts, upcoming on Saturday, November 29, 2014 in LA.  Highly recommended!

This program will include a broad range of Javanese works from refined mask dancing, to a duel of elaborately adorned woman warriors, to a male quartet of dynamic strength and dignity — all to the dramatic soundscapes of the gamelan. The culmination of this diverse program is Karna’s Choice — a story about the sorrows of war, the love of a mother, and the loyalty of brothers — as retold from the beloved Indian epic, the Mahabharata.

http://www.festivalofsacredmusic.org/event/cup-of-java/

While you’re at this site, check out their interesting blog:

http://www.festivalofsacredmusic.org/category/blog/

CCA Wayang Kulit

50th Aniversary Celebration – Javanese Shadow Theater, May 10, 2013

Celebrating our 50th Anniversary with Canyon Crest Academy

A Javanese Wayang Kulit, Shadow-Puppet Play
featuring the Canyon Crest Academy Javanese Gamelan, with special guests From Los Angeles

Baghawan Ciptoning, dalang
Djoko Walujo, CCA gamelan director

Friday, May 10, 2013 • 12:00 noon

Canyon Crest Academy
5951 Village Center Loop Road
San Diego, CA 92130
Admission: Free

CCA Shadow Theater Flyer

ISI Solo Gamelan

An Evening of Indonesian Music, Dance, and Puppetry, May 8, 2012

Music, Dance, and Shadow Puppetry from Indonesia

Featuring troupes from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (Institut Seni Indonesia), Surakarta

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 • 7:00 pm
The David Alan Collection
241 South Cedros Avenue
Solana Beach, CA
(858) 481-8044

Admission: $20

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