Gamelan is the Indonesian word for ‘orchestra’ or ‘ensemble’.
The Balinese gamelan
in Toowoomba (Semar Pegulingan style)
is made up of percussion instruments, and its
main rhythmic feature is the use of complex cross-rhythms. It sounds
foreign to western ears, as it is based on a
five-note scale, whose notes are different from western pentatonic scales
Balinese names for the five notes are: nong, neng, nung, nang, ning.
Balinese music often illustrates themes and episodes from the ancient
Hindu epics the ‘Ramayana’ and the ‘Mahabharata’.
These are often presented in the form of a dance, or shadow-puppet
theatre, simultaneously with the music. Gamelan music has had a
significant impact on contemporary Western music since Claude Debussy
first heard a gamelan in Paris in 1889. Modern composers from Australian,
Europe and the United States have incorporated aspects of the gamelan
in their music.
All Balinese gamelan music is considered sacred, although to varying
degrees. Temple ceremonies are incomplete without dance or music,
and they are inextricably linked. There are certain dances and music
that can only be done in the temples, and others with sacred and
secular forms. Even the function of entertainment is considered
important, as it is a personal offering of the dancers and musicians,
and therefore has an element of the sacred in it.
Masks for dancing are blessed before use, allowing the spirit of
the character to enter, and assisting the dancer, who has focused
on reaching this spirit in the solar plexus, the energy centre of
The Balinese people express their Hindu Dharma faith daily, and
each important event in their lives is celebrated with gamelan and
often, dancing. This is done to please the Gods, and to welcome
them as visitors to the special event. The Blessings of the Gods
are said to enter each village through their gamelan’s gong.
In Balinese faith, the whole world maintains a constant and delicate
balance between good and evil, light and dark. If this balance is
disrupted, causing for example, bad crops or disease, special music
and dance ceremonies are performed to rectify the balance and purify