When I was a kid I took piano lessons, as many other kids did and do. This was not a terribly successful endeavor, though it was not really what I’d call a failure. (I also took a few guitar lessons, but my little brother was a truly astonishing natural at that, and I soon stopped. That was a big mistake, but I don’t get into it on this page, at least not specifically.)
My mom sang in the Brooklyn College Chorale and the Brooklyn College Festival Chorus while I was growing up, and that was actually rather successful both for her and for me -- they performed lots of joyous baroque music, and I occasionally got to attend rehearsals as well as performances. I still love that stuff. Give me Palestrina, Monteverdi, Tallis, Handel, di Lasso, Purcell, Ockeghem, Schütz, that whole overarching crew... I’ll take almost any of ’em almost any time.
I also grew up listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and lots of other rock music, which I also liked and still like. I can even deal with a certain amount of the Rap stuff that my former stepdaughter was listening to some years ago. (I’m not entirely sure what she listens to now.)
When I went off to graduate school, my first real sweetie (I should put in a history segment and reveal my sordid problems with becoming even vaguely socialized) introduced me to classical Indonesian music, both Balinese and Javanese. I became the first person in the history of the physics department to play in the Javanese gamelan. (I still find that incomprehensible, btw. Physicists are known for wide-ranging interests, particularly musical ones. Richard P. Feynman, for example, was an absolute demon on bongos. Rumor has it that he could beat 11 against 13.)
Gamelan music is very much grounded in time, rhythm, and cycle. The drum is generally the leader, controlling pacing and transition. I only ever drummed for one piece, a bubaran called Hudan Mas. (A bubaran is a sort of processional, except that it’s rather informal. Think of it as entry & exit music. At a gamelan performance, you walk in to the sound of a bubaran being played, and you leave to the sound of a bubaran being played, as if the music were totally endless and you just wander in and out for a while.) Hudan Mas means Golden Rain. It occurs both in Java and in Bali, where it is slightly different.
Drumming in concert was very difficult for me, and I’m glad I only had to do it the once. I was not medicated at the time, and it is just astonishingly difficult for someone with even moderate ADD/ADHD to stay sufficiently on track to lead an entire orchestra, even for one little piece. Nonetheless, it was fun to learn.
Much later, when I was working at Apple Computer, I got to take some classes in Afro-Caribbean drumming with Arthur Hull.
Arthur is a dancing elf. If he doesn’t have a web page, someone should probably put one up in his honor. This guy can actually get executives in suits to make noise with toys and enjoy it.
I do not actually consider myself to be a drummer, but I can carry a rhythm until my neurology gets in the way. I can even do little bits of improvization around a rhythm. On my best days, I can even begin to sing the words of the songs without completely losing track of my hands. (Several of the pieces Arthur taught us had words, and it was remarkably difficult to sing and drum at the same time.)
I also like to sing (maybe sometimes there is something in a name). I’m a sometimes member of one of the local Shape-Note groups (The Sacred Cow Harmogenizers, of Seattle), and I was one of the founders of a small and very informal madrigal group that met about once a month in Seattle until it got killed. We tended to warm up with rounds, and I’ve even written a few.
I’m currently a member of Berko Solo, a gamelan that meets at the Indonesian Embassy, in Washington, DC. It’s wonderful to be playing gamelan music again.
Writing music is different from writing words, and I’m going to have to speak to that issue, but I will probably put it on the writing page unless... well, maybe I’ll just cross-link ’em. Eventually I’d like to have some of my own music up here, but I don’t have any of it in digitized form yet, so that will have to wait.
Despite having done my stint at the keyboard in childhood I don’t really quite play, so composing music is perhaps even more peculiar than it would otherwise be. I hear something in my head, decide I want to capture it. I run up the computing machinery and mouse it in. Play it back on the MIDI synth. Listen. Tweak. Begin to add other lines. In that sense, perhaps, it really is more like writing words than one might expect, and more than it might be if I were playing it in on the keyboard and just recording it.
This page seems terribly fragmented and disorganized as
I read it, and it doesn’t have nearly enough about the
Gamelan in it, but I don’t have the time to deal right
now. As usual, I’m in "too much, too quick" mode.
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Email: jon (only 3 letters) [at] the domain you’ll find in the URL of this page.