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

UMich Gamelan Update

Thanks to the generous and passionate outpouring of support for the Javanese gamelan at the University of Michigan, the School of Music, Theater, and Dance has decided to maintain a graudate student who will provide teaching support to the ensemble in the next academic year!

There has still not been a clear statement from the School on whether it truly supports this ensemble, emblematic of international arts performance and cultural exchange, over the long term. The Dean issued a statement that has not addressed the question of the ensemble’s long-term future. The statement also offers an ambiguous (though presumably critical) response to the article that appeared in the campus newspaper.

What Can You Do?

So you want to help? Here’s a few things to do:

  1. It seems clear that the only way to secure a permanent space and teaching plan for the gamelan at Michigan will be for as many people as possible to contact the Dean directly to voice their perspectives and provide advice on this situation. Also let other administrators and decision-makers (e.g., faculty) at the University know of your concerns.
  2. You can make a public comment on Facebook at the SoMTD’s post regarding the Dean’s statement at https://www.facebook.com/umichsmtd/posts/10151991335763253.
  3. If you voice your concerns on social media like Facebook and Twitter, use the #saveUMgamelan hashtag!
  4. You can still sign the petition!

If you haven’t been following the story to this point, check out my earlier post, which chronicles the petition: Save the UM Gamelan.

This post was updated! Please leave a comment on Facebook!

Save the UMich Gamelan

If this post motivates you to do one thing, let it be to sign the petition!

The University of Michigan gamelan faces an uncertain future, despite its nearly 50-year history of vibrant educational opportunities and performances with many world-renowned artists. While the School of Music, Theater & Dance has just broke ground for a new addition, it can’t seem to find a place in its priorities (nor its facilities) for a permanent commitment to this venerable ensemble! The Michigan Daily has chimed in with this feature story, which offers a good overview of the history of the ensemble, how it arrived in Ann Arbor, and it’s history at the University. Current concerned students have created a petition to gather signatures. If you’re reading this, you can voice your support and sign it, too!

And of course, go to the concert on February 15, 2014 at Stamps Auditorium to show your support!

You can also contact university administrators directly, including the dean of the School of Music, the Provost, and the University President. And of course, go to the concert on February 15, 2014 at Stamps Auditorium to show your support!

Here is some of the social media buzz from the first 48 hours of the petition going live here on storify, and here’s some of the tweets so far:

Update: nearing 2,000 signatures on the petition, in 48 hours.

Nearly 2,000 signatures in 2 days!

University of Michigan students play on the Javanese gamelan ensemble next to the pond near the Moore Building.

Support the Center for Black Music Research

A recent report that ironically proposes to “increase resources” at Columbia College in Chicago actually proposes to lower the quality of research and academic infrastructure at the College by eliminating funding for the world-renowned Center for Black Music Research (CBMR). The news was publicized in a Chicago Tribune article earlier this week, and many in the sound archives and musicology communities are gathering support for the Center. Here is an excerpt of a blog post by musicologist Fredara Mareva, “Help Save the Center for Black Music Research”:

Yesterday, Howard Reich (@howardreich) wrote an Chicago Tribune article that informed us that the CBMR at Columbia College in Chicago is slated for elimination as a part of a plan to “increase resources.” Dr. Louise Love, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Interim Provost, is responsible for proposing a cost-saving plan that will help offset the school’s decreasing enrollment. The irony is that enrollment in Columbia College’s music program is increasing while the rub is that the CBMR is not housed in its music department, but in its Office of Academic Research. A final decision about the CBMR’s future will not be made until June 2012, but now is the time to voice your support for its important work. . . .

I fervently encourage you to join us in a letter writing campaign to show support for the work of the CBMR. Please take a moment to send a note of support for the CBMR and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble to the following:

Dear President Carter:

This is my letter in support of the preservation of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College. I am gravely concerned about the proposed plan to eliminate the CBMR, which would eliminate access to invaluable resource that document the evolution of African American music. Its contribution to knowledge includes on campus Columbia College students and extends to all of us who appreciate the history of African-derived music from around the world. There is no other organization that provides the comprehensive level of research and programming that CBMR does. I believe that the access they provide to rare recordings and collections is an important cultural service that needs to be preserved.

Sincerely,

Please send to:

Dr. Warrick Carter, Ph.D.
President of Columbia College
wcarter@colum.edu

Prioritization Team responsible for making recommendations to the President: blueprint@colum.edu

Read Mareva’s full post here and Howard Reich’s article here.

Archives Relief, West Africa

The BAPMAF archives (Bokoor African Popular Music Archive Foundation) in Accra, Ghana were flooded on October 26 of this year. The damage appears to be serious, and a plea for financial support has been circulating via email, blog, twitter, etc. John Collins, the archives founder, state on 10 November: “As you may know I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives since 1990 which was partly opened at my Bokoor House to the public in 1996 and more fully in 2007. However, devastation struck in the middle of the night of 26th Oct 2011 in the form of a flood. . . . The resulting flooding on the 26 Oct was unprecedented with almost 6 feet of water entering our land and 5 feet into the downstairs house and premises where some of the BAPMAF archival holdings are kept.” It is estimated that 10 to 20% of the archives holdings were damaged or destroyed, including all electronic equipment. Further illustrations of the damage were posted by the Afropop blog on November 19—if you have any doubt as to the extent, have a look at the photos!

If you are able to help, monetary donations can be made via Paypal. Information is given at the AfroPop post above, and via the BAPMAF Facebook page.

Further information about the BAPMAF project and its collaboration with Africa House at NYU can be found at the BAPMAF collection page.