Balinese Traditional Music & Orchestra – Gamelan

As soon as you land in Bali airport, you will hear the unique melody of Balinese music. This chants of tunable clanging sounds bring pleasures to your ears, similar to the sound of xylophones being played in a group. The more you explore the island, you will realize the music is pretty much everywhere; it’s played on the hotel lobby, spa, restaurants and basically anywhere in Bali.

The name of the whole instruments in this traditional Balinese orchestra are generally called as gamelan. Since a pretty young age, Balinese kids are encouraged to join a gamelan band in the village called sekaa gong or beleganjur. Most of the villages in Bali have specific groups who trained their skills regularly, such as for dancing and gamelan. Each group is classified based on their ages and gender. These traditional music bands sometimes can be so busy, especially during “good days” for Balinese; they will be booked for ceremony in temples, personal events at home like wedding, tooth filling and the blessing of new business or houses. 

A group of ten to twenty people playing this traditional orchestra is called gamelan gong. Gamelan ensemble consists of dozens of instruments which appear to be xylophone-like, hanging gongs, cymbals, flute, drums and many more. Here are the main components of gamelan used in many varieties of shows on the island 

  1. Reong/ riyong is the biggest instrument used in gamelan band; it looks like a long hollow frame which hold-ups tens of melodic bronze plates played by at least two to four players.
  2. Trompong is the instrument that produces the most stands-out melodies among others. It looks like Reong/ riyong but only played by a single/ solo player. The player of trompong is usually an honoured musician, as he needs a special skill to be able to improvise, paraphrase the melodies and take control across a span of more than two metres rows of melodic bronze plates.
  3. Gangsa is the instrument played by the group leader. It looks like a xylophone made of bamboo with four to fourteen keys bronze plates on it. There are several types of gangsa based on their designation. The leader will give the signal by lifting his hammer like a baton, which followed by other instruments playing their parts during the show. The player will always hold the hammer on his right hand and reduce the intensity of beaten bars using his left hands. All these movements are happening in such a lightning speed.
  4. Gong is the colossal bronze gongs usually hanging at the back parts of the band. The player doesn’t appear much during the whole show; only in those particular parts of the song, it will be beaten by a cloth-covered mallet to produce a deep mellow tone, bringing up such different mysterious-vibe into the performance.
  5. Ceng-ceng is a bronze cymbal commonly decorated with a red tassels of red-threads that creates a unison chattering sound during the show. The player will clash the plates in syncopated rhythms on a sitting or standing position (depends on the type of the show).
  6. Kendang is a traditional drum made of a hollow cylindric wood covered with leather on its two ends – similar to pahu drum from Hawai. The players commonly use sticks or their hands to play this instrument.
  7. On some occasional shows, other instruments like traditional flute called Suling and rebab–similar to a small modern cello, are commonly added to the band.  

Once a year, there is an annual cultural event on the island called Pesta Kesenian Bali takes place in Denpasar every mid of June to middle of July. Every banjar from nine regions of Bali will send their best candidates to compete on an epic stage in Bali Art Centre. People from all over the island will come excitedly to support their representatives. Among hundred of teams performing on this full-month event, local groups from Gianyar regency are usually delivering the most remarkable performances. As soon as they are entering the stage, many audiences will scream the name of their group hysterically.

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