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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

The log experience

As the upcoming first Independent Study Project (ISP) day was getting closer, I was getting more and more nervous. Being the only Dragons student in the Indonesia program to choose the studies of traditional music of Java, there was no wonder why I was feeling this way. When the music mentor finally arrived at the Program House in the late afternoon, I was filled with excitement. He takes me to his studio which is 50 feet from the Program House. I was surprised that the location of my studying was being held so close to somewhere so comfortable. That was until he gave me a bike and told me to follow him while he rides his moped.

Around an exhausting 20-30 minute bike ride through the village we end up at a open patio like area where I can see children learning traditional Javanese orchestra instruments (better know as Gamelan). I walk up the stairs and my instructor tells me to sit. About 15 minutes later when the children finish playing, pack up, and leave, an old man walks up to me and tells me that he’s my instructor.  I was confused at the fact that I was given two instructors, but the more the merrier, right?

Once he comes and introduces himself we instantly dive into learning the traditional instruments. When we finish going over the instruments and how they all play together in Gamelan, my instructor (the older one), ask me if I want to start playing music. Excitedly I say yes, thinking that I finally get to start playing these very interesting looking instruments. As he starts to walk down the street, I think he’s going to get an instrument more suited for me from his house. Oddly he tells me to follow him, so together we walk down the street and end up in someones garage.

Lying down on the middle of the floor was a log with a big slit in the middle.  A lady who I’ve never seen before walks up to me and hands me a long stick. Me thinking that the lady is going to come out with an instrument that I can play with this stick, we sit there in silence. My instructor then tells me that the big log with a slit in it is the instrument, and the name of that instrument is the “Gejog Lesung”. He tells me that the Gejog Lesung is a type of traditional Javanese music and that this instrument uses traditional rice pestle made in villages in Java. He tells me that this instrument was used as a way for farmers to defy the king way back when.

I sit in awe as he tells me the stories of how his people used to play Gejoj Lesung as a way to resist the king.  After the long stories I was told to start playing. I beat the stick against the wood trying to make a mellow beat as my instructor joins in. 20 minutes pass of my instructor and I messing with the log, when people from the village start to show up. In about 45 short minutes their are at least 20 people from the village singing traditional songs, dancing, and playing the Gejog Lesung with me. After we finish playing we all talk about Javanese traditions, songs, dancing, and more.

As my ISP study time has come to an end, I thank all the villagers for sharing their experiences of Javanese culture with me. As I ride back to the Program House thinking of all the music we were playing, I couldn’t help but smile and think how lucky I am to be here.