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.

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.

Crazy Energy Wastage!

I’m not dogmatic about energy usage, but by and large it seems like a good idea to encourage efficient energy use and lower volume consumption in most cases. This is especially true during winter months. For example, if you want to heat a room, save money, and also save energy, it would be a good idea not to leave a window open during the winter months. Am I right? Does this sound like a crazy concept to you?

Well, if you were the facilities managers for the University of Michigan‘s Burton Memorial Tower, you might think this was a radical approach. Not many people have offices here, but there are enough that it should be a priority. After all, the University prides itself on being “green” (and blue), and the most recent sustainability report suggests that energy use is down! Nonetheless, the window in my office in the building is actually bolted in such a way that it is open an entire inch at the top! A temporary duct-tape fix has been tried for the past few years, but obviously this doesn’t work too well. It’s difficult to get one of those plastic barriers to attach because of the way that the blinds are attached to the window. The upshot of this situation is that when I came to the office today, there was literally a half-inch of snow on the inside of the window! When I stand near the window, I can feel the draft and also feel the little snowflakes blowing in! (See the photo above.) Now, this does not seem like energy efficiency to me. In fact, it seems like negligence. For unknown reasons, the University has decided not to replace the windows in the building for years despite faculty requests. I don’t expect a fix in the middle of this snowstorm we’re having, but I hope that attention is given to this problem in the near future! By a cursory glance at the energy usage statistics, screenshot at right, it is clear that steam use is up this year for every month. This suggests a possible action to me: adjust current windows correctly, and replace them as soon as it becomes feasible. (They still need to open during the summer for ventilation, but there should not be freely flowing indrafts in the middle of the season’s biggest blizzard yet!)

As you can see, the 2011 year-on-year use is up... and the windows are bolted open...

The Bells

The Lurie Tower

The Inauguration of the Lurie Carillon on North Campus (1998).

Ever wondered who’s playing the bells that you’re hearing coming from church towers or carillons? In a lot of places, these are automated or it’s just a recording. The University of Michigan, however, has two carillons that are played regularly by faculty and students. Today is your chance to learn more if you live in Ann Arbor. This was just released by the University News Service:


Lurie Carillon Open House
Guests are welcome to watch the carillon being played, ring a few bells and enjoy refreshments. There are opportunities to take carillon lessons for credit starting in January, following a successful audition with University Carillonneur Steven Ball.

Date: January 6, 2011, noon-6 p.m.

Location: Robert H. Lurie Tower

For more information: http://ur.umich.edu/events/events.php?se=23194. Image source: http://me.engin.umich.edu/news/pubs/grad/1997-1998/rodrigo/pg12/pg12.html. The Carillon page (currently inactive, but hopefully back someday!): http://www.engin.umich.edu/about/lurietower.html.

Hill Auditorium History and Information

Screen grab of search terms arriving at the blog for the last year

A screen grab of some top search terms for the past year.

I was surprised to find while looking over my blog stats this afternoon to find that, of search phrases that bring visitors to the blog, “hill auditorium” was the second highest. This is not to say that it brought a lot of visitors — only 7 — which makes me think that people are interested in performances more than musical instrument studies. (Duh?!) Nonetheless, Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium seems to bring a lot of traffic here. This is likely due to my May post on the pipe organ in Hill Auditorium, “The 1895 Columbian Organ,” which was really just a positive reaction to James Tobin’s article about the instrument in Michigan Today.

If you end up here with an interest in Hill or in the pipe organ, you probably want to know more than I wrote in that post. I’d recommend first, if you’re interested in the building’s history, to read Tobin’s article. Next, you might want to visit some of these links:

Hill Auditorium Stage; photo by Paul Jaronski, UM Photo Services

Other ideas? Add links in the comments, please!

The 1895 Columbian Organ

Hill Auditorium Stage; photo by Paul Jaronski, UM Photo Services

In a feature article in the online edition of Michigan Today, James Tobin contributed an article titled “The Great Pipe Organ.” Tobin chronicles the history of the organ in the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium. In his observations about the importance of such large instruments in 19th-century American communities, Tobin notes the culturally organological viewpoint. Summarizing the importance of the organ to a community, he writes:

Americans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries listened to great pipe organs with a mixture of technological awe, local pride, and aesthetic rapture. Cities competed to buy the biggest and best.

Read more, and see the illustrations, at http://michigantoday.umich.edu/2010/05/story.php?id=7735

See also James Kibbie’s site with specs of the Hill organ.