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    What is Gender Wayang? (Part II)

    As I mentioned previously, gender wayang are the original instruments used to accompany puppet shows in Bali. This is where they got their name about one thousand years ago. Compared with Javanese puppet shows which use a full-sized gamelan set with two different tunings, requiring many musicians and singers, the small Balinese gender wayang quartet makes the Balinese puppet show a much more intimate event. In fact, when I brought a Balinese puppetry troupe to New Zealand in 1999, a professor of musicology thought that the music was a lot more ‘earthy’ than its ethereal Javanese counterpart.

    Even though gender wayang are not being used so often anymore for secular, night time puppet shows in most parts of Bali, they must still be used in ritual performances, such as wayang gedog/lemah or wayang sudamala. The ritual puppet shows are normally held during the day (lemah means ‘daytime’) and may be accompanied by only two gender wayang instruments if there are only two players available.

    Playing for a puppet show requires a higher skill level than performing purely instrumental music (at weddings, tooth filings, cremations etc) because the musicians must be able to react at lightning speed to cues from the puppeteer. Whilst there is no improvisation, the musicians must know a large repertoire of music (memorize up to 20 pieces) to be able to play the appropriate musical illustration for each puppet. Unrefined (kasar) characters such as giants, demons and evil characters, as well as buffoons require loud and fast music, especially when they are angry and there are fight scenes. Refined (alus) puppets such as noblemen, women and heroes need sweeter, slower music, normally played in a higher register. The shows can last for hours, so the musicians not only need a high skill level but great stamina and tons of strong, sugary Balinese coffee!

    If you want to find out where you could watch a puppet show or learn more about and hear samples of gender wayang music, click www.balimusicanddance.com/about-us/gamelan

    © 2010 Vaughan Hatch<-->

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