The Gamelan is an Indonesian musical ensemble consisting primarily of metallophones and tuned knobbed gongs. Non-metallic instruments such as bowed and plucked string instruments, drums, end-blown flutes, wooden-keyed instruments, and voices may also be included in the make-up of a gamelan. The word "gamelan" translates as "orchestra", but with the important difference that it refers to the group of instruments and not to the musicians. Every gamelan is unique, with its own name and tuning.
The Gamelan Ensemble of San Jose State University provides students with the opportunity to study the rich musical tradition of Java. Students learn to play the various percussion-type instruments that make up the gamelan. Along with the study of traditional Javanese music, the Gamelan Ensemble also performs contemporary works. One of the purposes of the gamelan program at SJSU is to provide student composers an opportunity to compose for this medium.
The gamelan program at SJSU was started by Lou Harrison in 1976 and since that time the ensemble has had the opportunity to study and perform on four distinctly different gamelan orchestras: * The beautiful Javanese Gamelan Kyai Hudan Mas which was loaned to the university by Samuel Scripps in 1976; * The West Javanese gamelan Sekar Kembar which is owned by Lou Harrison; * The American Gamelan Si Betty, built by Lou Harrison and William Colvig in 1979; * and Gamelan Si Aptos, an iron gamelan build for Lou Harrison and William Colvig by the Javanese gamelan builder, Pak Daliyo.
In addition to presenting full concerts at SJSU each semester, the Gamelan Ensemble has toured throughout California and has appeared in such musical events as New Sounds San Jose, the New Music America '81 Festival, the Cabrillo Music Festival, the Saratoga Music Festival in New York, and the Ravinia Music Festival in Chicago. In 1982 the SJSU Gamelan Ensemble, in collaboration with the Gamelan Group from Mills College, recorded the soundtrack to the film Beyond the Far Blue Mountain by Molly Davis. In August of 1986, the ensemble performed at the World Exposition in Vancouver, Canada at the invitation of the Indonesian government. The SJSU Gamelan can be heard on the recording Lou Harrison: Three Pieces for Gamelan with Soloists (CRI 455). In August of 1991, the ensemble recorded a double CD set featuring contemporary gamelan music.