series

Gamelan

Southbank Centre is home to a beautiful Javanese percussion orchestra known as gamelan, and throughout the year there are many chances for you to hear and to have a go at playing it.In 1987 Southbank Centre was privileged to receive a beautiful Javanese percussion orchestra called gamelan. This was a remarkable gift from the Government of the Republic of Indonesia to the people of Great Britain as a gesture of friendship. As in the case of many important gamelan ensembles, the gamelan was named ‘Kyai Lebdha Jiwa’ or ‘The Venerable Spirit of Perfection’.

Founded by Alec Roth, Southbank Centre Gamelan Programme has since reached out to thousands of people and provided many opportunities to learn about and play these amazing instruments. The gamelan programme is facilitated by a core group of expert tutors, many of whom have lived and studied in Indonesia and have a wide knowledge of Indonesian Arts and culture as well as a prolific background in Western music. There are now over one hundred gamelans in the UK and a thriving gamelan community in which our tutors play a vital role.

Southbank Gamelan Players, Ensemble in Residence at Southbank Centre, have an international reputation for the performance of traditional Indonesian music as well as New Music for gamelan and exciting collaborations with musicians and dancers across a variety of art forms.

Get involved : Southbank Centre’s Gamelan Programme offers something to suit everybody: from family, school and group workshops to regular classes and performances. No previous musical experience is necessary to play the gamelan and enjoy its wonderful sounds.

Gamelan is both a rewarding musical and social activity. Playing the gamelan can inspire self-confidence, improve coordination and listening skills, encourage team-building and be a great opportunity to try something new or develop your playing skills in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Learn to play the gamelan, see performances of gamelan, or find out more about these beautiful instruments here.

Get in touch

For more information about gamelan at Southbank Centre, contact us
Tel: 020 7921 0767
Email us

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The Venerable Spirit of Perfection

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Classical music
Orchestra
6 Oct - 15 Dec
Put your gamelan experience to the test with this advanced course

10 Dec

24 Sep - 24 Jun
Bring your family and friends to play our Javanese gamelan percussion orchestra

11 Dec

11 Dec
Discover how Javanese gamelan is used in traditional and non-traditional ways
Gamelan Winter Chimes Workshop

Free

Dance
11 Dec
Discover how Javanese gamelan is used in traditional and non-traditional ways
11 Dec
Mix it up and learn how to meld gamelan and other music techniques to make entirely new music

12 Dec

19 Sep - 10 Jul
Let your Dragon Babies experience the sounds of the beautiful Gamelan through singing, movement and percussion.
Folk & World
3 Oct - 12 Dec

13 Dec

Free Gamelan and Poetry workshop for Lambeth Schools

Free

Folk & World
20 Sep - 18 Jul
Lambeth primary schools are invited to book free gamelan and poetry workshop sessions

14 Dec

28 Sep - 15 Dec
Get a group together to have a go at playing gamelan - a beautiful Javanese percussion orchestra
Classical music
Orchestra
5 Oct - 14 Dec
Learn to play the beautiful Javanese gamelan percussion orchestra on this course for beginners

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5 Oct - 14 Dec
Classical music
Orchestra
Learn to play the beautiful Javanese gamelan percussion orchestra on this course for beginners
20 Sep - 18 Jul
Folk & World
Lambeth primary schools are invited to book free gamelan and poetry workshop sessions
see all events

What is gamelan?

The term gamelan refers to the ensemble of percussion instruments on which traditional gamelan music of Java and Bali is played. A complete Javanese court-style gamelan comprises two sets of instruments, one for each tuning system: sléndro (a five-tone scale) and pélog (a seven-tone scale). Within each of these tunings are three pathet, a Javanese concept referring to both mode and mood. No two gamelans are tuned exactly alike; each ensemble is unique and may often be given a name.

How does it work?

The layout of the gamelan reflects the role of the different instruments in the music. In the middle of the gamelan, the balungan (or ‘skeleton’ melody) is played on the bronze metallophones (saron family and slenthem).

The balungan is punctuated by the larger gongs (gong ageng and kempul) and the horizontally-mounted gongs (kenong, kethuk and kempyang) at the back of the gamelan.

At the front of the gamelan a selection of more complex instruments embellish the melody - the two bonang (double rows of gong chimes mounted on a frame), gendèr (multi-octave metallophone), rebab (fiddle), gambang (xylophone), siter (plucked zither) and suling (bamboo flute). A complete ensemble also includes a gérong (male chorus) and pesindhèn (solo female vocalist). The whole gamelan is co-ordinated by the drummer in the centre of the ensemble, playing a selection of kendhang (double-headed drums).

What is it used for?

Traditionally, gamelan music is used in Java for a number of different artistic and cultural purposes. The gamelan can often be found at religious ceremonies, palace rituals and many occasions including weddings, funerals, coming of age ceremonies, village cleansing rituals, celebrations to mark the birth of a new child or important events and birthdays.

The gamelan is often used to accompany dance or shadow-puppet plays and other theatrical forms. Gamelan is also played during klenengans - occasions where communities and local musicians get together to perform for enjoyment or to mark a particular social event.

In addition to ancient traditional gamelan music, popular genres co-exist (Campursari, Keroncong and Dangdut) which are vocal oriented and can sometimes incorporate Western instruments - keyboards, trumpets and drums - with Western tuning.

stories

podcast
Southbank Gamelan Players perform Subakastawa, a popular gamelan piece
podcast
A joyful performance by Southbank Centre Gamelan Players

more gamelan courses

more about gamelan