What is a gamelan?

  • A Gamelan is a whole set of musical instruments found all over South East Asia but especially on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali. 
  • Almost all of the instruments of the Gamelan are percussion instruments, most of them made from bronze or iron: gongs, metallophones and chimes of various shapes and sizes. There are also bamboo flutes, a xylophone, drums and more. 
  • The Durham Gamelan is from Central Java. It is made from bronze. The instruments can be played by between five and fifteen people at one time. It was one of the first playable gamelans to come to the UK. 
  • There are many different types of Gamelan, even just within Java - Indonesia's most populous island. 
  • The traditional music of the Gamelan is still very widely played and enjoyed. It is used at ceremonial occasions, at weddings, to accompany dance and puppet theatre (including shadow puppets) and at informal concerts. 
  • The music of the Gamelan is called Karawitan, which literally means 'refinement'. It is one of the most developed forms of 'non-western' music. It varies from the loud battle scene music to some of the most relaxing and meditative sounds you will ever come across. 
  • The Gamelan provides an incredible opportunity for musical participation and education. There is no physical barrier to playing and a group of adults who thought they were unmusical, or a group of young children, or anyone else, can be playing real music within the space of a short workshop. 
  • It is easy to learn the basics but there is also plenty to challenge - Javanese music combines simple melodies with complex improvised ornamentation.