6 years ago

Volume 14 - Issue 8 - May 2009


COVER STORY: WORLD VIEWEvergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan at twenty fiveby Karen AgesAnniversaries are a time to look back and reflect on time spenttogether, or on one’s accomplishments over the years, and theEvergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan is doing just that. Theycelebrate their 25th anniversary season this month, with threedifferent concerts: May 2 at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener,and May 4 and 11 at the Music Gallery.I asked long-time member and suling player Andrew Timarto tell me a bit about the Ensemble and his role within it. Here’san abreviated version below. For a more in-depth “tell all”account, please visit Ages: When was the Evergreen Club founded, and whowere its original members?Andrew Timar: Jon Siddall founded the group in 1983. Many ofthe first ECCG musicians were also composers who wrote musicfor our degung (type of gamelan). These included American composer/musicianMiguel Frasconi, percussionist/composer MarkDuggan, percussionist and now ethnomusicologist MichaelBakan, pianist/musical sculptor/composer Gordon Monahan, andclarinetist/composer Robert Stevenson (currently Artistic Director ofArraymusic). ECCG’s first suling (vertical bamboo flute) player wasAnn McKeighan (now a CBC music producer), but I took over thisduty from the second season onward. My learning curve was quitesteep, since we had several difficult commissions to premiere, suchas Trichy Sankaran’s Svara Laya.KA: Where do the instruments come from?AT: Our first set was made in West Java, the home of degung (atype of gamelan ensemble). Our present degung was made in 1998-9of the finest bronze by noted gamelan maker Tentrem Sarwanto ofSurakarta, Central Java. Several of us made the trip to his workshopto negotiate the instrumental range and tuning. In the case of bothsets, we made the “furniture” out of Canadian hard maple, onwhich the sounding parts of the instruments rest, here in SouthernOntario. This combination of the best of Javanese gong forgingresting on prime Canadian maple serves as a metaphor for thegroup’s multi-cultural approach.KA: Was the original objective of ECCG to commission contemporaryworks, or did it start out as a traditional ensemble playingtraditional works?AT: Right from the beginning our focus was on contemporary Westerncompositions, many of which we wrote ourselves. At that timethere were no other gamelans in the country, let alone gamelan teachersto study with. The group’s leader Jon Siddall’s entry into thegamelan world was via the American composer Lou Harrison (1917-2003), who himself had only recently studied the Sundanese musicalbasis of degung. Siddall did introduce a few traditional works, buteven these were in Harrison’s own “adapted” versions using Westernnotation. In 1993 we invited the Sundanese multi-instrumentalistBurhan Sukarma to teach us degung repertoire and performance practice.Several of us have gone on to study gamelan music performanceof various sorts, as well as other Indonesian music genres.KA: Can you tell me something about Evergreen’s repertoire, boththe contemporary compositions, and the traditional Sundanese pieces?AT: The core corpus of Sundanese lagu-lagu degung klasik (musicalcanon of the gamelan degung) is about 50 – 60 works. We’ve performedsome dozen of these over the years. Some have been releasedon our CDs: Solo, (Artifact, 2002), and Sunda Song (Naxos, 2004).As for the other 90% of our repertoire, they’re compositions we’vecommissioned from Canadian, American, South American and Europeancomposers. These include works by two of the most important20th-century composers, Lou Harrison (1917-2003) and John Cage(1912-1992). Canadian composers such as Gilles Tremblay, ChanKa-Nin, James Tenney and Walter Boudreau, to name just a few,ECCG: l - r: Paul Houle (peking), Romano DeNillo (slentem), Ryan Scott(jengglong), Mark Duggan (bonang), Bill Parsons (go’ong, kempuls),Andrew Timar (suling/flute), Blair Mackay (kendang/drums),Graham Hargrove (gambang), Rick Sacks (panerus).form the majority of our repertoire, however. We are particularlyproud of our active commissioning policy, which has generated morethan 150 compositions to date.KA: When did you first become interested in the Suling, and withwhom did you study?AT: Perhaps it was my woodwind-playing background (I was abassoonist and had also studied recorders and shawms at York University),which paved the way. Jon Siddall gave me my first sulingpointers in 1983, though I must say that I learned essentially “on thejob.” It was only in 1988 that I made my first trip to Indonesia,where I had two brief lessons on Sundanese suling. My first seriesof intensive suling lessons were with Burhan Sukarma, the foremostsuling player of his generation, in 1993 in Toronto, and then severaltimes later at his San Jose home. I also studied in Bandung, Indonesiawith one of the leading suling players, Endang Sukandar.KA: Tell me something about the instrument itself. I know you’vegot quite a collection: what determines which suling you will use forany given concert or piece?AT: The suling is a “ring flute” made of bamboo. Its ring is madeof a strip of split bamboo tied to the cut node at one end of thelength of bamboo. The ring and cut node form a channel to blowthrough. The sort of bamboo which the Sundanese call temianggrows straight and has the desired blond colour. Its long internodallength means its bore doesn’t have to be drilled or shaped. WhileI’ve taken lessons on the Balinese and Javanese sulings and havethose in my collection of roughly 200, it’s the Sundanese varietieswhich I play most often. There are primarily two types used in degung.One has six finger-holes (suling panjang, or suling tembang)and has a lower tonal range; the other has four holes (suling degung)and is shorter with a higher range. The choice of which sulingto use is sometimes given by the composer, or can be determined bythe range of the melody, the density of the other instrumental parts,the genre of the piece, and whether there is a vocalist or not.KA: What concerts does ECCG have coming up, in celebration ofits 25th anniversary?AT: On May 2, at 7:30 pm we’ll be in concert at the Open EarsFestival in Kitchener. “The Enduring Legacy of Lou Harrison,” willfeature several gamelan degung works by Harrison and John Cage,both of whom, as I mentioned, were key figures in ECCG’s firstdecades. Cage’s Haikai was composed for us, and is his only game-8 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COMMAY 1 – JUNE 7 2009PHOTO: IAN BROWN

lan work. A world première of a new work by Gordon Monahan forprepared piano and ECCG rounds out the program.On May 4, at 8 pm at the Music Gallery, our programme “Suitesfrom the Past” will feature percussion master Trichy Sankaran onmrdangam, for the world premiere of his Repercussions. Jon Siddallwill join us for the world premiere of his suite The GreenhouseRevisited. Our final Music Gallery concert is “Sunda Songs,” May11 at 8 pm. This features song repertoire inspired by the Sundanesemusic of West Java, with guest vocalists Jennifer Moore, SubaSankaran, and Maryem Tollar. There will also be songs by MarkDuggan, by Senegalese musician Youssou NDour, and a rousingPalestinian folk song. The concert is preceded by a hands-on workshopat 6:30, in which the audience is invited to participate.KA: And what’s in store for the future? Any tours on the horizon?AT: We’re completing our next CD, which we recorded with theHalifax-based Sanctuary trio. We’ll also be pursuing several educationaloutreach initiatives and will continue our Sora Priyangan communitygroup. As far as touring is concerned, we’ve played in Japan,Indonesia, Europe, and across Canada several times. We’veheadlined at World Expos in Lisbon and Hanover, at London’sSouthbank Centre, twice at the Radio France concert hall in Paris,and in 2002 we were featured at the Yogyakarta Gamelan Festival.Last month we gave a well-received concert near Montreal. In contrastto the halcyon days of past, when our federal government tookan interest in international touring, these seem dark days for any kind of touring. When the economic gloom lets up however, we’llresume plans for touring the west coast of the USA, up to BC. I’dlove to return to Europe and Indonesia too!Other world music events, in brief:Small World Music continues its 7th annual South Asian MusicSeries with four concerts this month: “Delhi 2 Dublin: – Bhangra,Celtic and Dub on May 3; “Sundar’s New Avataar” – Raag and taalfused with jazz and electronica on May 12; Anindo Chatterjee – tablamaster on May 23; and Azalea Ray – spiritual songs & vocal virtuosityon May 30. Visit for details onthese and other concerts. The Echo Women’s Choir presents a Mothers Day concert on May10, with Cuban-Canadian musicians the Del Monte Escalante family.Among other works, the concert will feature songs of Chilean songwriterVioleta Parra, and South African songs.Described as “a Russian Streisand and a Jewish Piaf,” Russian singerSvetlana Portnyansky (presented by Show One Productions) performsat the Leah Posluns Theatre on May 20. Trained primarily asa cantor in the Jewish religious tradition, she’ll sing in Yiddish,Russian, Hebrew, Ladino and English.May 22, Samba Squad delivers its 10th anniversary concert at thePhoenix Concert Theatre. The Toronto Jewish Folk Choir presentsits 83rd Spring concert on May 31, payingtribute to singer/actorTheodore Bikel on his 85th birthday, and composer Srul IrvingGlick (1934-2002). Recently back from San Francisco’s JewishMusic Festival, and named 2008 “vocal group of the year” at theCanadian Folk Music Awards, Toronto’s klezmer/swing band Sistersof Sheynville performs at Hugh’s room on June 3. Check ourlistings for details on times and venues. MAY 1 – JUNE 7 2009 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM9

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