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‘Groove oriented’

Biennial summertime Sound Symposium marks 33rd year

Campus and Community

For this year’s Sound Symposium, the 18th iteration of St. John’s own international festival of new music and art, Memorial’s School of Music has just the thing.

Music professor Bill Brennan’s new work for Sundanese gamelan and flute, Temple on the Lake (Pura Ulun Danu Beratan), will make its world premiere at the D.F. Cook Recital Hall July 15.

Bill Brennan
Music professor Bill Brennan will debut a new work for gamelan and flute at the Sound Symposium July 15.
Photo: Submitted

Acquired by the school in 2013, a gamelan is a set of keyed metallophones, similar to xylophones, and gongs found in Indonesian traditional music. It’s the kind of instrumental ensemble that fans of the Sound Symposium—nine days of improvisational dance and music, sound art, world music, hi-tech sound, lectures, workshops and more—revel in.

Indonesian music

Prof. Brennan, an accomplished and successful jazz musician, composer and percussionist who is no stranger to the festival, says audience members can expect to hear the “wonderful gamelan degung” instruments of West Java, Indonesia.

“These are mostly percussion instruments except for the bamboo flute called a suling,” he said. “The percussion instruments are a collection of hand drums and bronze metallophones and gongs. There are gamelans in other parts of Indonesia which are fairly different from gamelan degung—different tuning systems and scales, and different approaches to playing the instruments.

“Traditional gamelan degung tends to have a melancholic sound, though more contemporary gamelan degung music can be quite groove-oriented.”

The School of Music's gamelan.
The School of Music’s gamelan.
Photo: Submitted

Each gamelan instrument—there are eight or nine in each group—has its own challenges, he says. Sometimes it is how quickly you have to play the notes; sometimes it is the choreography involved in playing the larger instruments. Percussion professor Rob Power and Memorial alumnus Timothy Brennan, among others, will join Prof. Brennan in Temple’s debut; Dr. Ellen Waterman, former dean of the school and who commissioned the piece, will play solo flute. The concert will also feature Indonesian virtuoso musician Ade Suparman, his wife Nurrika, a renowned traditional dance performer and members of the Acadia University Gamelan Ensemble.

Prof. Brennan says the “joy” of playing in the Sound Symposium is the opportunity to share his sound with other artists and with the public.

“The idea of Sound Symposium is to partake in as much of the festival as possible as an attendant. So, it is a learning experience too.”

Full aural experience

In addition to the gamelan concert, there is much, more to experience during Sound Symposium, running July 8-16. World premieres and performances by a number of Memorial School of Music alumni and faculty members are on the long and varied bill, as well as regular crowd pleasers such as Harbour Symphonies, improvisations with The Black Auks and Night Music for those who can’t get enough sound throughout the day. Not to mention a number of workshops for music, theatre and composition. Venues ranges from the School of Music to the LSPU Hall, Harbourside Park, The Ship Pub and the harbourfront in downtown St. John’s.

For a complete schedule of the 33rd Sound Symposium—which only comes around every second year, so now’s your chance—please visit here.

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