April 4, 2005
International music scene thriving
If music really is the universal language, Sacramento State
The University's 300 acres host a world of international musical from campus groups and visiting performers annually. Performers and style vary greatly semester to semester, but the constantly affordable ticket prices and intimate venues make Sacramento State the place to hear the unexpected.
The newest addition to the mix is the University's own Balinese percussion orchestra, Gamelan Suara Santi, or Voice of Peace. The homegrown group is a traditional Indonesian five-tone "angklung" gamelan. Its instruments are mostly brass bells and gongs in tuned pairs that create waves of exotic sound. Doing the striking are up to 25 Sacramento State students under the direction of music professor Daniel Kennedy.
The instruments came to Sacramento State because of Kennedy's longtime interest in Indonesian music, the same interest that led Kennedy to the island of Bali on a research trip in 2003. While studying Balinese music under gamelan master Made Subandi, Kennedy visited famed instrument builders Gableron and Sons from the town of Blabatuh. With assistance from Subandi, Kennedy arranged for the creation of the varied instruments that make up Sacramento State's gamelan.
Work on the instruments spanned four months, all done in the rustic Gableron workshops. "You had guys with flip-flops carrying around pots of molten brass," Kennedy says. The gongs and bells were cast and the wooden supports were hand-carved with fierce dragons. By the end of Kennedy's trip the one-of-a-kind instruments were packed and ready to go. "I ended up with eight enormous boxes to ship," Kennedy says.
The group debuted last fall in a concert featuring renowned Balinese musicians Gamelan Sekar Jaya and Balinese dance. The Gamelan Suara Santi has become a hub of classes taught by Kennedy, and he's planning future concerts as well as community outreach events and off-campus shows.
Brass of a different kind is the focus of another Sacramento State group, the Latin Jazz Ensemble. Formed by professor Steve Roach in the fall of 2001, the 10-piece group has become a on- and off-campus favorite.
"What we do is play contemporary Latin jazz. We try to stay hip, to be new. That piques the interest of the group. The students are always challenged," Roach says. He plays trumpet as well as directs the group. The ensemble has played countless campus events, appeared annually at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee and even plays private parties. Con Sentimento, the group's first CD, is out and another is planned to be released in May.
"I just love this music," Roach says, "and I think the ensemble is an important part of the jazz program at Sacramento State."
The University's own international musical offerings are augmented with regular concerts by visiting talent through Sacramento State's ongoing World Music Series under the guidance of professor Jim Chopyak.
"We put on four to five concerts a year," Chopyak says, adding that many of the performances feature Indian music. That's made possible by the Vivek Wagle Memorial Foundation. Wagle, a Sacramento State engineering professor, died in the early 1990s. His love for Indian music lives on in the foundation that bears his name, funding Indian concerts at the University that have become a focus of the World Music Series and made Sacramento State a regional center for Indian musical performance. "The quality of the Indian concerts we've had is astounding," Chopyak says.
Examples are a performance by Indian music superstar Ali Akbar Khan, who came to the University early in the series, and recently a guitar, sitar and tabla show by acclaimed artists Ancient Future. Other offerings have included Siberian throat singers and classical Chinese performers.
The series draws community members to campus, many for the first time, but for Chopyak the concert series is about much more than entertainment. "It is directly related to what I do in the classroom," he says. "The music is not just an abstract to the students when it's right here in concert."
When not on stage, visiting performers visit classes as well. Sacramento State students enjoy some of the best international performers right on campus. "Most students approach the concerts fearful, but they come back thrilled by the music," Chopyak says. "It's an eye-opener to other cultures and a non-threatening way to learn about them."
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