by Catriona Mitchell
Ethno-musicologist Vaughan Hatch has been studying and documenting classical and archaic Balinese gamelan intensively since 1997, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
The 38 year-old fell in love with gamelan when on holiday in Bali as a teenager. Years later, when an Indonesian Government scholarship came his way, Vaughan seized the opportunity to be the first New Zealander to study gamelan at a Balinese university.
His expectations were high, but the university experience dashed his dreams: “I discovered that there were only a handful of these [classical] orchestras still active,” Vaughan says, “and that the younger generations weren’t really interested or didn’t know what the music was. They had never even heard of it.” His enthusiasm for the gamelan, however, wasn’t dampened. “I just fell in love with the sounds, with the sonority of the gongs and the rhythms.”
Vaughan went on to fund his own studies by finding aged gamelan masters in the villages, and asking them to teach him.
He is particularly enamoured with the early court gamelan, a less popular form than the faster-paced modern variety that appeals to tourists. To this end, since 2000, he has been gathering together a group of enthusiastic mixed-sex musicians from a number of different local villages, who range in age from 7 to 70, to document and reconstruct the archaic court gamelan and dance traditions.
Vaughan’s idea for his musical center, called Mekar Bhuana, is to create “a living museum” . His group plays on antique instruments, sourced from all over the island.
Vaughan’s wife is the award-winning Balinese dancer and singer, Putu Evie Suyadnyani. The two met in Sanur when he was researching gamelan and she was rehearsing legong. “She’s really supportive and she also puts up with having the instruments everywhere, which not all people would,” says Vaughan, with cheer. He calls Evie “a pillar of Mekar Bhuana”.
The pair now has two children, the eldest of whom, Gede Semara Richard, at age 6 is already composing and performing for the rare type of archaic gamelan called selonding. His compositions were performed at the VIP event at ARMA last weekend as part of the Bali Spirit Festival, and Evie choreographed a new dance based on ancient movements for one of the pieces.
‘Mekar’ means to blossom, and ‘bhuana’ means the world; with this name, the center makes clear its aim to re-popularise the rare forms of gamelan, and increase local and international awareness of a unique and mesmeric, yet near-obsolete, art form.
Evie taught Balinese dance classes at the Bali Spirit Festival last weekend, and Mekar Bhuana’s gender wayang and selonding orchestras performed at a Dharma Fair concert as well as one of the festival’s VIP events at ARMA.
For information on Mekar Bhuana’s local and international performances, lessons, workshops and other activities, see www.balimusicanddance.com
To keep their center sustainable, Vaughan and Evie have set up an online store that sells products related to Balinese gamelan music and dance, see www.mekarbhuana.com
Photos are courtesy of Mekar Bhuana