Joining the Gamelan in Theory and Practice


  • Sean Williams The Evergreen State College


The first time the deck of cards appeared in the gamelan room at The Evergreen State College, the deck was met with silence and looks of shock. The cards landed on the small table, around which at least a dozen students were clustered while the rest of their classmates sat at the instruments of the gamelan degung, a small Sundanese ensemble of West Java. “If I don’t hear some noise and the sound of cards,” I warned, “I will be quite disappointed.” I then returned my attention to the students at the instruments, who looked equally alarmed. Within a few minutes, however, they were lost in the sounds of the gamelan and struggling to learn their parts, apprentices at their sides. Several minutes later, chatter, shouts of triumph, and cards slapping against the table were added to the sounds in the room.

Author Biography

Sean Williams, The Evergreen State College

Sean Williams has taught ethnomusicology, Asian Studies, and Irish Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington since 1991. Her books include The Sound of the Ancestral Ship: Highland Music of West Java (Oxford 2001), Irish Traditional Music (Routledge 2010), and Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song-Man, for which she won the Alan P. Merriam Prize for the best monograph in the field of ethnomusicology. She has also written articles for Asian MusicYearbook for Traditional MusicBalungan, and The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.4 (Southeast Asia); reviews of books and CDs; and chapters in edited volume. Her research interests include Sundanese, Irish, Japanese, and Brazilian musics, and issues in religion, language, and liminality.