Eastern and Western cultures come together in Gamelan Tunas Mekar's new music and dance performance, Mountain Offerings. Drawing inspiration from the mountainous landscapes of Colorado and Bali, the event illustrates a traditional temple ceremony from the Indonesian province in a new light.
“We wanted to do a performance that combined the Rocky Mountains and the Terompong Mountains, a range just west of our instructor’s village, Bangah, in Bali, Indonesia,” explains Michael Fitts, who has been a member of the Denver-based Gamelan Tunas Mekar for 32 years. “Various members of our group have visited that area over the years, so it was a way of connecting the two communities together — the village of Bangah and our community that we built in Denver.”
Under the direction of Balinese composer, instructor and artist-in-residence I Made Lasmawan, Gamelan Tunas Mekar’s repertoire ranges from traditional pieces to more contemporary compositions. For decades, the ensemble has been presenting the gamelan (the Indonesian word for "orchestra") music of Bali to local venues, schools, music festivals and specialty concerts.
The orchestra has also had the same Balinese teacher, Lasmawan, since 1992. He is one of the few gamelan-qualified instructors in the States. “We’ve been very fortunate to have our own ‘village’ instructor — what you would have traditionally in Bali — which is the same person for life,” Fitts says. "We've learned everything from him."
The upcoming Mountain Offerings performance at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 5, will also showcase two other Balinese orchestras rich in melody and texture, Gamelan Semara Dana and Gamelan Angklung. Gamelan Tunas Mekar has also composed a collective work with those orchestras, which will be a highlight of the show.
“With this production, I want the audience to feel like a participant at a Bali temple ceremony, because the pieces we’re performing are what you would see if you were actually part of a traditional village and its ceremony process,” Fitts says.
The twenty-plus-piece orchestra will play a range of instruments, including fifteen metallophones. These instruments are “ornate, hand-carved jackfruit-wood cases with bamboo resonators inside and bronze bars strung over the top of them,” explains Fitts. “The bronze bars are tuned to the bamboo tubes based on where the note is cut in the tube. A shorter tube is for the higher frequency, and the notes on the longer tubes are bass notes.”
Other instruments in the ensemble include double-headed drums, large gongs, hand-held cymbals, flutes, percussive pots played with sticks, and a melodic instrument called the trompong. The latter requires four people to play it, as it is a long apparatus with a row of metal, kettle-like gongs mounted on a lavishly carved large wooden frame.
Ibu Ketut Mami. A seventeen-minute instrumental piece by Lasmawan's son will follow.
“This is a beautiful composition by I Made Tangkas Ade Wijaya,” says Fitts. “It’s traditionally known as a ‘sitting’ music piece for temple preparations, which is very common in Bali. There’s a popular expression the Balinese use, jam karet (‘rubber time’), which [means] that life should not be rushed and should happen in a relaxed manner. So with a ceremonial performance, you can say it will start at 1 p.m., but everyone in Bali knows it will actually start anywhere between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.”
Other spiritually inspired pieces include music depicting the nature of a living tradition, rooted in the earth and history, as well as a dance segment meant to illustrate the bird of paradise from Irian Jaya, a benevolent protector of community.
“We actually had this mask carved in Bali,” says Fitts. “It’s inspired by Blucifer, the big bronco horse out by the airport.” The performance, which depicts the horse in a Balinese dance, will represent the mountains of Bali and Denver merging; Fitts calls it “our western edge.”
Gamelan Tunas Mekar presents Mountain Offerings, Saturday, March 5, 7:30 p.m., at the June Swaner Gates Concert Hall, 2344 East Iliff Avenue. Tickets start at $19. For more information, visit newmancenterpresents.com.