This past spring, the St. Olaf music department received a very special donation of a set of instruments. Mary Shamrock ’58, an alumni of the department and a former professor at California State University – Northridge, donated a set of Indonesian percussion instruments known as a gamelan to the department. Shamrock currently serves as a director of the Sumunar Indonesian Music and Dance Ensemble in St. Paul. Shambrock generously supports the St. Olaf music department through the Mary Shamrock World Music Endowment fund.
The gamelan – made up of many different percussion instruments – is the traditional ensemble music of the islands of Java and Bali in Indonesia. The arrival of the Gamelan on campus, along with the recent hiring of Ethnomusicologist Dr. Rehanna Kheshgi, will help centralize the study and performance of Indonesian gamelan music within the department. This will be supplemented with possible future classes and performance opportunities with the instrument within the next year.
This new chapter in the department is related to recent discussion by students and faculty about diversity within the department since a majority of the current course offerings and performance opportunities stem from the Western Classical Music tradition. Along with the opportunities the Gamelan opens up within the music department, the instrument may also help open up future collaboration with the asian studies and education departments.
On Saturday, Sept. 29, the instrument had its first outing with a group of music education majors who participated in a hands-on workshop and lesson with the instrument from classically-trained Gamelan performer Joko Sutrisno. Sutrisno also serves as the director of the Sumunar Gamelan Ensemble in St. Paul. Students took turns on the different instruments that make up the gamelan. They learned about some of the basics of Indonesian music and the background of the gamelan.
Courses relating to Indonesian music and culture have been offered intermittently in the past at St. Olaf, such as an interim course on Indonesian music led by Shamrock and Sutrisno which took place in the early 2000s. The dance department has incorportated Indonesian dance through the Veselica International Dance Ensemble, which could open collaboration between the dance and music departments. As for the overall impact of the new instrument on campus, Shamrock’s gift, combined with the recent investment by the College and the music department to diversify the music offerings at St. Olaf, will help create a new image for the department and open a new chapter to the study of World Music at the College.