Why Michigan’s Gamelan Matters

You may remember that in February, graduate students at University of Michigan began a social media campaign to raise awareness about the impending closure and potentially unsure future of the Javanese gamelan at the university’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. Along with a social media hashtag, #saveUMgamelan, the students organized an online petition that within a month has garnered over 2,500 signatures from concerned students and faculty at Michigan, as well as educators, students, and artists from around the world who care for the gamelan’s future and its significance for the study of ethnomusicology in the United States. (For a fuller recapping, check out a collection of related social media items here.)

I have sent a letter to the Dean of music and since I see it as an important testimonial to the importance of the ensemble, I will share part of it here. Most of the letter is devoted to my personal experiences playing in and teaching the gamelan ensemble while I myself was a student in Ann Arbor. However, I have also made some clear suggestions to the Dean about how the situation might be addressed:

Let me thank you for your recent statement that made clear your support for the gamelan. I was pleased to hear that the ensemble will remain a part of the academic and performance schedules at the university for the next academic year. In your “greetings” on the school’s website, you suggest that Michigan is a place where students (and audiences) will have “unparalleled opportunities to intersect with the whole world of the arts.” The gamelan has been a primary vehicle for such artistic intersections as well as global arts opportunities on the Michigan campus for nearly 50 years, and I presume that it is one of the many paths that you see converging at this “intersection” of the world of the arts. . . .

[Unfortunately] your actions and those of the school over the years throw into doubt the school’s long-term commitments to the gamelan. During my time as a student, the gamelan faced previous semesters when the instruments were placed in temporary storage with no clear strategic plans for the ensemble’s future. As a GSI, I was directly involved in responding to these situations. (The past few years, which have witnessed the instruments being moved out of their permanent rehearsal room at various times, confirm that you either do not understand the importance of or do not value a permanent space for the ensemble. In contrast, ensembles at UCLA, UT–Austin, and Wesleyan have dedicated spaces.) Moreover, your failure to appoint a full-time, tenured faculty member who will shepherd, if not teach, the ensemble, shows a true disregard for the importance of the gamelan to the school and the university. To indicate that the gamelan ensemble is a serious priority, you need to make a clear commitment to a permanent space and provide clear faculty support through a full-time faculty member of the school for the UM Javanese gamelan. Without those clear steps, the school’s commitment to the ensemble remains doubtful.

My full letter is online at http://goo.gl/4rMaef. Even though a month has passed since the announcement, it is still important to let the school know about your concerns. If you support the continuation of gamelan in any form at the university, make sure that you show your support by getting in touch with the school administrators. Share your concerns with the hashtag campaign.

Related
Save the UMich Gamelan
UMich Gamelan Update

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