The instruments arrived at Burton Tower in the thick of winter, 1967, in enormous wooden crates. Judith Becker – at that point, a graduate student in ethnomusicology – took it upon herself to decipher the function and purpose of each instrument, and did so with the help of Professor Malm and her colleague, Mark Slobin. She tried to transcribe a recording of the piece Bubaran Udan Mas (closing piece “Golden Rain”), arranged the instruments according to what she was imagining in the recording, and taught the piece to a group of students.
Becker heard that a colleague of Professor Bill Malm’s, Pak Hardjo Susilo, was in graduate study at UCLA. Pak Susilo was from a musical family in Java and was extremely experienced at Javanese gamelan. And so she invited Pak Susilo to come and hear what she had put together of the gamelan.
As Professor Susan Walton – who was in the gamelan at the time as a graduate student – explains, “We all were, you know, very excited about meeting a real Javanese person and playing the piece we were so proud we had learned. And we played our piece. And there was a long pause after we played our piece.” Pak Susilo simply smiled, and no one knew how to interpret his smile.
“And then he said, ‘Well, in Java, we have the style of gamelan from the city of Surakarta, and we have the style of gamelan from the city of Yogyakarta for this piece. And now we have the style of the city of Ann Arbor for this piece.’”
Pak Susilo proceeded to show each person what they should be playing on their instrument, and from this presentation, Judith Becker realized that there was no way she could have reverse engineered Javanese gamelan music from just one simple recording.
The inaugural performance of the University of Michigan Gamelan occurred on April 5, 1967. It was a lecture concert that discussed such topics as Filipino gong ensembles, interlocking in Balinese music, and the basic principles of Javanese Gamelan – including a performance of Bubaran Udan Mas.
Pak Susilo continued to visit Ann Arbor every fall for the next several years, where he would stay for about a week and give intensive gamelan lessons to Judith Becker and various members of the U-M Gamelan. Judith Becker would then teach that material to the ensemble and give a concert each winter. Slowly but surely, the gamelan at U-M developed from a collection of instruments housed in a clock tower to an active community of musicians and scholars from across U-M and Java.