Monthly Archives: April 2018

Gamelan Semara Santi Plays Lang Concert Hall and Hawthorne Park

To commemorate Gamelan Semara Santi’s twentieth anniversary season, the ensemble, comprised of Swarthmore students, faculty, staff, and community members, will perform two concerts. One in Lang Concert Hall on Sunday, April 8th, and the other on April 15th in South Philadelphia’s Hawthorne Park, the performances will feature Balinese music and dance performed in a variety of styles.

The second concert joins other activities designed to celebrate Gamelan’s twentieth anniversary through explorations of Balinese and other Asian styles of music. Earlier in the semester, the Department of Music and Dance hosted Indonesian dancer Didik Nini Thowok, who held a guest lecture and demonstration on cross-gender traditions in Balinese and other dance styles. The first performance will be shared with the newer Chinese Music Ensemble.

The decision to hold a second concert in Hawthorne Park is significant. According to co-director and Professor Thomas Whitman, there was “virtually no Indonesian community in Philadelphia” in 1997, when he began teaching gamelan at Swarthmore. He continues, “In the wake of Indonesian political and economic instability in the late 1990’s, however, there was large influx of immigrants from Indonesia, many of whom settled in South Philadelphia.”  Following contacts made with the new community and the support of the College, transporting the group to the city became more of a possibility. “Swarthmore’s full ensemble has never performed for an audience of Indonesian-Americans…so we thought this would be an appropriate capstone for our 20th anniversary season.”

Hawthorne Park joins previous off-campus venues that the ensemble has performed at such as the Kimmel Center and Longwood Gardens. The instruments, created by I Wayan Beratha, arrived on campus in the fall of 1997 and have since been featured in biannual concerts at Swarthmore College. Gamelan Semara Santi’s name was derived as a tribute to Swarthmore College’s Quaker roots, merging the name of the Balinese god of love (Semar), and “santi,” the Sanskrit word for “peace.”

The collection of instruments is tuned in the pelog system, which is realized as a repeating sequence of five notes named for the Balinese vowel sounds. Among the instruments, the largest is the gong; in gamelan music, the gong occupies a central role and, with the kempur and kemong, defines the cyclical pattern through which the nuclear melody takes shape. This melody, contrary to much of traditional West European musical practice, is voiced through the lower-toned instruments jegogan and calung and enhanced by a number of gangsas. Accompanying this basic distribution of instruments are, depending on the style, the kajar, reyong, suling, kendang, ceng-ceng, and gentorag.

During its upcoming concerts, Gamelan Semara Santi will perform one piece from the Gamelan Semar Pegulingan repertoire, which rose in prominence during the nineteenth century and is characterized by a slower and more regular gong cycle. We will also perform two pieces of the rapid and dynamic Gong Kebyar style, which evolved in tangent with Bali’s rapid sociocultural and political changes around the turn of the twentieth century.

I am incredibly grateful to the directors and group for making Gamelan a central part of my Swarthmore education since freshman year and am honored to be able to participate in our twentieth anniversary concerts. I am excited to share what we have learned in both the Lang Concert Hall and Hawthorne Park!


Jacob Demree ‘19

Janis Siegel Performs with Swarthmore Jazz Ensemble

Janis Siegel, a Featured Guest Artist at Swarthmore College this year, has performed and hosted multiple workshops with voice students on campus throughout the academic year. Known for her Grammy award-winning work with the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer, Siegel is a big name in the music world, and music students at Swarthmore have been eager for opportunities to work with her. She has collaborated with solo performers and ensembles alike on campus, including a workshop held with Swarthmore’s Garnet Singers.

Shelby Billups ‘20, voice student and member of the Swarthmore Garnet Singers, has worked with Siegel as both a soloist and ensemble member. On the experiences, she says, “With Ms. Siegel, you never know what to expect and I think that’s what added to the excitement of being in a class with her. You have a chance to spontaneously explore different styles of your voice.” Josie Ross ‘21, another Garnet Singers member and solo workshop participant, speaks of the ease of working with Siegel. “Siegel has a warm, welcoming presence that makes you comfortable to step outside of your comfort zone. When I was invited to the workshop, I was nervous to sing to such a experienced performer. However, her collaborative style gave me the courage to try singing techniques in front of a group of strangers.”

Not only voice students will benefit from Siegel’s presence and mentorship on campus. This semester, the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble will perform its first ever concert with a guest artist or vocalist, and aiding the ensemble in this debut is none other than Janis Siegel. Members of the ensemble are honored to take part in this Jazz Ensemble first, and trombonist Sam Gardner ‘19 voices their excitement. “Janis Siegel is a total professional,” he says. “It should be a fun and different show.” Siegel will perform with the Jazz Ensemble in seven out of eleven concert pieces. The repertoire includes several Duke Ellington works and a brand new version of “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera, arranged by Janis Siegel and ensemble conductor Andrew Neu.

Swarthmore Jazz Ensemble is a standard jazz big band comprised of five saxes, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass, and drums. The group has rehearsed three hours per week throughout the semester in preparation for this performance. Says Andrew Neu, “Not only do we have such a superstar guest artist with us, but the Swarthmore Jazz Ensemble is a talented group of musicians in their own right. Every one of their past performances has been an exciting night of dynamic jazz, and the word is spreading about how great they are. If you haven’t seen the band, then you need to find out what everyone has been talking about!”

The Swarthmore Jazz Ensemble Concert with Janis Siegel will be held Saturday, April 7th at 8PM in Lang Concert Hall. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Maya Kikuchi ’20

Deborah Wong: “Women of Color Creating Change: Taiko, FandangObon, and Asian American Arts Activism”

Fitting with this month’s celebration of Women’s History, Professor Deborah Wong from the University of California, Riverside will deliver the 2018 Genevieve Lee ’96 Memorial Lecture with a presentation on the way Asian American women use the arts to promote social change. The Lee Lecture is an annual endowed lecture that supports the development of multi-disciplinary Asian American studies. This year’s lecture is sponsored through the Asian Studies Program and Department of Music and Dance at Swarthmore College. Titled “Women of Color Creating Change: Taiko, FandangObon, and Asian American Arts Activism,” Professor Wong’s lecture will explore two case studies of the arts as a form of social change. The first case study looks at taiko and the role of gender within the taiko community among a diverse group of women. The second examines FandangObon, a festival based in L.A. that brings together Japanese, Mexican, and African American communities for a celebration of dance, music and environmental consciousness.

As a Professor of Music and an ethnomusicologist who specializes in Asian American and Thai music, Professor Deborah Wong has defined her academic career by working with diverse groups of people in order to seek out and promote interethnic collaborations. ‘Inter’ and ‘diversity’ are key words to Professor Wong’s research and are reflected in the works she has published. Speak it Louder: Asian Americans Making Music for example, a book that Professor Wong published in 2004, tracks the multitude of musical genres Asian Americans have contributed to. From traditional Asian, to jazz, pop, and classical, her work looks at how Asian Americans have created and participated in a diverse array of music traditions.

Lesia Liao ’18 read Speak It Louder to learn more about the field of ethnomusicology for an independent research project with Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant of the Swarthmore Department of Music & Dance. Liao has been working to create an annotated bibliography for Asian Americans involved in music to investigate what Asian American music is and how we might define it. Liao notes that “ethnomusicology…is especially interesting because it takes music as a site of identity formation and one[‘]s grappling with experiences.”

Professor Wong’s lecture will discuss just how to address that relationship between music and identity formation, particularly among Asian American women. Liao voiced her excitement for learning how Professor Wong balances community engagement with ethnographic research, and related the relevance and importance of this lecture, stating that “this talk will be relevant and engaging with people of color, activists who seek different ways to engage in the movement such as through the arts, Asian Americans, and anyone with an interest in the Asian-American experience, anthropology, or music.”

Among her many accomplishments, Professor Wong has also served as the President of the Society for Ethnomusicology, an editor for Wesleyan University Press’s Music/Culture series, a research member for the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, Chair of the Advisory Council for the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and a project manager for the Great Leap Online Archive.

Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant has long been impressed with Professor Wong’s involvement in ethnomusicology and the public sector, and has been the one to suggest bringing Professor Wong to campus as the Genevieve Lee ’96 lecturer:

“I have had the great pleasure of getting to know her through our shared interest in Taiko communities and her leadership for the Society for Ethnomusicology. I believe that Professor Wong’s commitment to Asian American communities and public sector work are both important connections to the interests of students at Swarthmore.”

As an activist, academic, and ethnomusicologist, Professor Wong’s lecture will prove to be an engaging and insightful discussion on Asian American women’s involvement in the arts and social activism.

This event is free and open to the public. The lecture will take place on Monday, April 2 at 4:30 PM in the Scheuer Room in Kohlberg.

Marion Kudla ’19