Gamelan workshops: explore the traditional music of Java and Bali

During September schools will have a chance to bring classes of children to London CLC for a flavour of gamelan music making, combined with animation. London CLC’s teaching and learning computing consultant Peter Lillington participated in the International Gamelan Music Festival in Java earlier this month and gives an insight into the spirit of gamelan.

Concentration: a child plays gamelan at a previous London CLC workshop.


You may not have heard of gamelan, which is one of the musical traditions of Java and Bali. It’s mainly but not exclusively percussive, played by young and old alike, and is now enjoyed by a world community. With the associated art form of wayang kulit (shadow play) it may soon be recognised under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Earlier in August I had a fascinating opportunity to see at first hand schoolchildren and students performing gamelan music in Indonesia. I was privileged to be part of the South Bank Gamelan Players ensemble once again, and to return to Indonesia after a gap of 33 years.

We were invited to the city of Solo (also known as Surakarta – its motto is ‘Spirit of Java’ and it’s a notable cultural centre for the arts). Along with groups from Japan, USA, Ireland and other parts of Indonesia, we were part of the ‘Homecoming’ International Gamelan Festival 2018. Not only were we ourselves performing on the big stage alongside some of our Javanese teachers, but we were able to participate in the programme of cross-cultural exchange and events over the course of 10 days.

During the ‘soft’ opening to the festival, no fewer than 73 complete gamelans were played simultaneously along the main city highway. It was a bit like if 73 bands were spread continuously along Oxford Street – mind boggling! Many of these were school and community groups with performers drawn right across all ages.

Other highlights included a visit to the puppet makers’ village to see top quality shadow puppets being crafted; playing alongside students in a couple of schools and village groups; and an amusing Hanoman monkey dance with some (very) young apprentices (please don’t try this one at home)!

Unlike my first visit when it was tricky to capture what was going on, even equipped with the then-latest Sony recording walkman cassette, this time  I have plenty of souvenirs thanks to modern phone technology (check out Music Memos app on iOS as a handy tool for recording).

Our KS2 workshops will include learning to play the gamelan as well as iPad animation of characters and, for KS1 an exploration of the instruments. You can read more about the workshops in our blog post – What is gamelan? And why choose this creative arts and computing workshop? –  and please contact James to book or find out more details.

If you can’t make it to the London CLC workshops this time, don’t forget that Lambeth and other London schools can access music-only gamelan workshops (with no technology element) at the Southbank Centre.

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