Cultural Instruments

Katharine Reece MFA ’12 + Suzanne Walters Gray MFA ’04

Do people make music—or does music make a people? Both, says Jonathan King (music). In the ensembles he directs, ethnomusicology students perform music from around the world and learn how the songs both reflect and create larger social patterns. “Music is a verb—the way you ‘music’ affects the way you live,” King says, whether you’re in Bali, Ghana, or rural Tennessee.

Card image Chandra Buana

Chandra Buana

Style
Balinese Gamelan

Origins
Indonesia

Key instruments
gong, gangsa, ceng-ceng

Distinctive features
A gamelan is a bronze percussion orchestra. Each is a distinct entity, built and tuned together; it’s considered a spiritual unit. Sarah Lawrence’s gamelan angklung consists of about 20 pieces and is distinguished by its tuning, a bright and celebratory four-note scale. The gong (1) marks the rhythmic cycle. The gangsa (2) is a type of metallophone, with several tuned metal bars that are hit with a wooden mallet. The ceng-ceng (3), in the shape of a turtle (a mythical turtle is said to carry the island of Bali on its back), creates a tinkling sound. Simple patterns played upon the instruments interlock to form large, complex musical structures, and the music, which has a shimmering sound, is used to accompany religious and cultural rituals.

Card image SUPER ferendji

SUPER ferendji

Style
Afro-pop

Origins
sub-Saharan Africa

Key instruments
electric guitar, dùn dún (“talking” drum), kora

Distinctive features
“Afro-pop” refers to a wide variety of contemporary, popular styles that combine features of traditional African music with European, Caribbean, and American influences and instruments. The ensemble at SLC incorporates electric guitar (1); the kora (2), whose sound resembles that of a harp; and the dùn dún (3), a “talking” two-headed drum with twin rawhide heads laced together by thongs of gut or leather; as well as horns, strings, keyboards, and other percussion instruments.

Card image Marshall Field and Company

Marshall Field and Company

Style
Bluegrass

Origins
American Southeast

Key instruments
mandolin, five-string banjo, resonator guitar

Distinctive features
Bluegrass originated in the 1930s, as people migrated from the rural South to the cities, and its high lonesome” sound captures a nostalgia for an idealized country lifestyle. Combining aspects of blues, gospel, and Irish music, it features soaring vocals, lyrical fiddle playing, and the rippling, cascading sounds of the banjo. Bluegrass ensembles have no percussion; the mandolin (1) helps keep the beat. The resonator guitar (2) has a metal cone, or resonator, in the soundboard, which makes it louder than a regular acoustic guitar. Historically, the banjo (3) occupied a central place in African American traditional music. Bluegrass music uses the five-string resonator banjo almost exclusively, creating a bright and fiery sound.

Card image Faso Foli

Faso Foli

Style
Traditional West African drumming

Origins
Guinea

Key instruments
djembe, balafon, dun dun

Distinctive features
In contrast to the Afro-pop ensemble, which explores a wide variety of African music, Faso Foli delves deeply into the polyrhythmic musical legacy of the West African Mande Empire. Some of the songs in this tradition are 800 years old, while others are contemporary. The balafon (1), which is related to the xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel, carries the melody. The dun duns (2) (different from Afro-pop’s dùn dún) make up the majority of the percussion ensemble and establish the rhythm, while the djembe (3) is very loud and can be heard clearly as a solo instrument.