Although quite loud in its Lightning and Thunder sections, the music's stated intent is best realized without walls to hinder it. Even better, its inherent spiritual attributes come to particular light during special evenings such as those given to Full Moons - as with this coming Saturday, May 9, when Hudson Valley Gamelan and the Bard College Music Department are presenting a special event under the big tent at the Campus Center Quad Lawn, starting at 8 p.m.
In non-concert settings, gamelan aficionados are quick to point out, playing and dancing, and shadow puppetry when available, can go on for hours - sometimes straight through an evening into the next day's first light and beyond. But that, says longstanding Hudson Valley Gamelan member Sue Pilla - who joined up 20 years ago when founder Garry Kvistad phoned to ask if she'd like to play on the new set of instruments that he'd just bought - is all dependent on a group of players' repertoire. And given that this weekend's concert will feature both the community ensemble Giri Mekar, and the student ensemble, Chandra Kanchana, it includes Bard students and some community ensemble members who've only been playing for a few months, the repertoire isn't at such levels yet.
"Everybody is excited about programming on a Full Moon night, outside," Pilla said of the upcoming event, which has had the grown group putting in extra practice time of late. "Yet it's always flextime when we play, with lengths of a piece depending on how long a dancer wants to dance and how the drummer, who's very much a conductor, chooses to shape the performance."
Concurrent with everyone's excitement about the lunar attributes of the upcoming event Bard College, as well as its being outside, she went on to note the special Balinese guests who will be part of the upcoming program. Included will be Dr. I Made Bandem of Massachusetts' Holy Cross College, known as "the Joe Papp of Balinese music and dance," as well as special guests Nyoman Suadin, Latifah Alsegaf, Junko Nakamura and dancer/artistic director Tjokorda Gde Arsa Artha. Among other key local players with Hudson Valley Gamelan for years, besides Pilla, is Bill Ylitalo, a noted Woodstock musician, and gamelan devotee Walt Farrell. Bard student actors from Professor Shelley Wyant's mask dance class will also be joining in the festivities.
Pilla also noted that a friend just returned from Bali will be selling craft and other items at the concert, and helping to give the event "the right feel." And she added how auspicious it was that Dr. Bandem was coming: After all, he turned down a consulate event to dance at Bard.
"This is our tenth anniversary at Bard," Pilla said, launching into a story about how participating students had been talking about the ways in which their involvement had been helping their schoolwork and social lives. "There's even the possibility now that we will have a monkey chant as part of it all," she added, noting that her daughter, Alex - now a Bard student - has been passing the word on how much fun this chattering element of the performances is. "She's been doing it her whole life."
Given the fact that this all adds up to both a divine smörgasbord of entertainment involving song, dance and special costuming as well as music, it seems almost an afterthought to account for gamelan's spiritual aspects as well as its historical importance, both in terms of Eastern cultures and of its more modern effects on Western music, from pop music to Claude Debussy and Steve Reich. Throw in that Full Moon and big tent in the Quad and... well, there's little way anyone can avoid the realm of magic.
It all takes place this Saturday, May 9 beginning at 8 p.m. at the center of the Bard campus in Annandale, just north of the Kingston/Rhinecliff Bridge on Route 9G. For more information, call (845) 679-8624.