Singa Nebah: Adapting a Javanese Gamelan Composition for a Western Percussion Ensemble
Pfeifer, Brian Chauncey Walter
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It has become increasingly common for Western musicians to arrange and adapt music of other cultures for their ensembles. This is especially true for the percussion ensemble where Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Indian, and other traditions are well represented. Many of these styles of music are well suited to performance by a Western ensemble due to their heavy reliance on drumming and their shared scale systems. The music of Java, specifically the gamelan however, has not seen the same amount of interest. Many students are exposed to Javanese music through college or high school music classes, but they are usually limited to listening to recordings as most institutions do not have the resources to own a gamelan. The purpose of this study is to create a framework for the composer who wishes to arrange gamelan music for Western percussion instruments. Discussed within are issues such as: instrument selection, tuning, improvisation, and authenticity. These questions are approached carefully so as to represent the original source as accurately and authentically as possible. Singa Nebah was chosen because it is a widely popular, well known composition in Java. Gamelan music is often mostly improvised and therefore two performances of the same piece may be wildly different. Choosing a composition such as this allows the greatest amount of source material to draw from, as well as a tacit acknowledgement that there is flexibility inherent in the performance practice of the tradition. The resulting nine minute arrangement attempts to adapt the concepts of performance practice in Javanese gamelan to the Western tradition. While it is impossible or unrealistic to accurately recreate some aspects of the music such as tuning or instruments such as the tuned gongs, decisions on this arrangement are made from the standpoint of practicality and availability of instruments common to a high-school or university. When certain aspects are not practical to reproduce verbatim, they are adapted in such a way that the theoretical concept remains intact while remaining idiomatic to the Western ensemble.
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