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Kym Hall - Gamelan Girl

K:Kym Hall, gamelan musician and composer from Gamelan Swara Naga fame is interviewed by Judy Shelley about her recent sojourn studying music at STSI Bandung - live-to-air on Suara Indonesia at BayFM Community Radio, Byron Bay.

J: I'm talking with Kym Hall who recently returned from a year studying in Bandung at the Academy of Traditional Music - STSI. Can you tell us about some of the wonderful teachers you had in Bandung. (Bandung is one of the major centres of music in Indonesia, so its sort of overflowing with talented musicians) So tell us a bit about the teachers you were studying with there. What sort of musical experiences they had to share with you.

I had some fantasic teachers in Bandung. My kendang teacher is coming to Byron Bay next year, his name is Wahyu Roche and we spent lots of afternoons with him playing kendang, learning different peices. He ended up getting a group together with me, my friend Emma, who also went over and a Hawaiian girl, Suzanne. We ended up doing lots of performances around the place at different venues.

J: What sort of places did you perform at?

K: We played at weddings....

I mean big gigs... didn't you play on the same bill with Krakatau once?

K: Not Krakatau, with Sambasunda and with Warogus.

J: So what sort of venues ... like at festivals or what kind of events?

K: Yes, at a festival, that's when we played with Sambasunda, at an outside venue. That's the first time I got sunburned - all day outside at a big festival.

J: Whereabouts was that?

K: It was across the road form the Gedung Sate.

J: And didn't you actually perform with Sambasunda when you were in Bandung?

K: Yes! We were invited to perform with them. We practised for a few weeks beforehand. It was a really big gig that they were doing, with huge television camera and it was really special to be playing with them for that concert. It was in the main hall at STSI at school.

J: Were they making a video clip or something like that? Is that why they had all the television cameras there?

K They were making a video clip as advertising for the group.

J: Wow, that sounds interesting. And how about some of your other teachers? Did you have the experience of studying with musicians who were also teaching there?

K: Yes, my suling teacher in Bandung was Bspk Yoyon who plays with Krakatau- they came to Byron Bay last year. He was absolutely wonderful. He has one day off a year, other than that he plays every morning at the Hyatt Hotel. There are lots of really dedicated musicians in Bandung.

J: Tell ua a bit more about some of the performances you did in Bandung.

K: One event we performeded at was at Parangtritis. We just went down to Parangtritis Beach for a camping culture festival. It was very interesting because no-one camped at all. We were going down to watch but then our friend Dodik, whi is a music teacher at STSI wanted us to play with him, so we worked out this piece with keyboard, kacapi and practice chanter for bagpipes. I also play the bagpipes and everyone was fascinated by the practice chanter that I took over with me and they asked me to play it often.

J: I told you, you should take your bagpipes with you. (We're now going to listen to a composition by Kym, in case I haven't mentioned before, Kym is a very talented and very young woman, considering her track record as a composer and teacher of gamelan. So we're going to listen now to a composition by Kym Hall on the Swara Naga CD Metal Magic called Tartan-Batik - which is perhaps the first composition ever written for gamelan and bagpipes.

J Tell me about the role of women in gamelan in Indonesia?

K:There are now a lot of women gamlean players. Traditionally women were mainly singers. The gamelan degung which Gamelan Ulangi Lagi are now using was previously used by a women's gamelan group in Bandung, before it was brought to Australia.

J: That's interesting considering its mainly women playing it now - that's amazing!

K: There were only two men in the group that I saw. At school, in first year everyone has to have a go at all the instruments. They have to learn all the gamelan instruments and have specialist lessons in suling- bamboo flute, gambang and kendang. So everyone gets a chance to learn all the instruments.

J: You had the first women's rampak group. How didi you find that people reacted to it?

K: They loved it, because we were whiute girls as well - we had a newspaper interview about it and the headline was "Three White Girls Play Kendang". I think wew were maybe a novelty factor because we were three white girls, having to play a lot of different gigis because everyone wanted to see us play - we were something unusual. J: Maybe you can tell us something about Rampak kendang. K: Rampak kendang is a group of kendang players - kendang are Indonesian drums. In Sunda its played on one large drum and two small drums. Rampak kendang is lots and lots of drummers all playing together. I saw one performance at school and there would have been about 30 people playing - it was amazing - quite a differnet sound to three people playing.

J: How did people react to a women's kendang group?

K: It was accepted, there was no problem at all.

J: Its quite an interesting thing to see the melding of cultures. I went to a concert recently with an African band called Wala and a Brisbane band called Boobida Doobida. One of the performers was na Australian woman called Gopi, who had obviously been studying African music for a long time and she was the main singer and drummer from the Boobida Doobida band. When she performed I said to a friend of hers who was sitting by, some people just have the spirit and they have this connection with another culture. They spend years and years just studying and developing their craft and their art, so that they have basically achieved the ability to perform in a cultural mode at the same standard as people from within that culture.

It takes a very strong connection to be able to do that. Probably in every country there are just a few people who are able to do that. It takes a lot of dedication too. But I think that's part of the fascination - when you see somebody from a different culture performing in your cultural mode, at such a fine standard, it gives you this amazing feeling of connection between the cultures.

Say for example, an Australian person is performing Indonesian music, an Indonesian audience may find it fascinating because they know how long it takes and they know how dedicated the people have to be - so I think that's part of it - the recognition that there is this connection between people. That regardless of their colour, in fact there are certain people who just feel a strong connection with another country and that becomes their second home.

Anyway, we've had news that you are perhaps going to do your Masters Degree, again in Bandung next year - how do you feel about going back?

K: I can't wait to go back again.

J: Well, thinking about you in Bandung - I've known you for some years now, in Armidale, Lismore, Alstonville, around Byron... and when I visited you and Emma over in Bandung - Well! I mean, I've lived in Indonesia for ten years, but those two girls looked like they were born in Bandung - they're just wandering around having such a great time - heaps of friends coming over all the time - I said to you at the time - you two girls don't know what a rare and special experience you are having, because not many people will find themselves plonk in the middleof all the best musicians in Indonesia basically - have you thought a bit about this since then?

K: I have and yeah, before I went I felt I knew quite a lot about Indonesian music and gamelan, until I arrived and i realised I didn't know anything. Now I feel I know a little bit, but I definitely have to go back there.

J: And keep on.

K: And keep on it.

J: Keep on the track - these gamealn girls! And how long have you been studying before you went to Bandung -

K: About 7 or 8 years.

J: After 7 or 8 years she says she knows nothing, so that will give you a bit of an idea of the dedication required to achieve in another country's culture. Thanks Kym.

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