Spioraid an dochais, Spirit of Hope: Imagining a Scottish Gamelan

May 1, 2020


Frederick Lau and Christine Yano’s edited work Making Waves (2018) notes that while music travels from culture to culture, “There is always a backstory behind each movement . . . [.] [A]ny piece of music or an instrument can become [a resource that enables] social actors to construct, shape, and imagine appropriate meanings for the context” (Lau and Yano 2018, 2). In 1990, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO)—in conjunction with several other local governing bodies in Glasgow, Scotland—commissioned a set of Javanese gamelan instruments from Pak Suhirdjan in Yogyakarta. This began a now twenty-nine-year project of gamelan music creation, performance, and social work in Scotland’s largest city. While exoticism remains a trope of Western use of non-Western musics and instruments, the history of gamelan in Scotland provides intriguing examples through which to explore this trope. The difference afforded by the instruments and sound was initially deemed pivotal to the gamelan’s success in Glasgow. At the same time, however, the SCO and others also wanted to make use of the gamelan’s participatory nature in order to create inclusive workshops and programs for people with special needs. Thus, the exoticness of Javanese gamelan was used to further the goal of local community-based, participatory musicking. This article explores the backstory of Javanese gamelan in Glasgow; the impetus that inspired city organizers to embrace, shape, and imagine the local potential of distant musical traditions; and some implications of those imaginings.

Vincent Benitez

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2363 Last modified on March 9, 2021