Friends of the Gamelan, Inc. is a not-for-profit Illinois corporation dedicated to the instruction and performance of gamelan music.

The organization traces its roots to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. One of the many exotic attractions on the Midway Plaisance was the Java Village, complete with a Sundanese gamelan. Never before had gamelan music been heard in the Western hemisphere.

The Field Museum of Chicago was founded to preserve, catalog, and exhibit the myriad cultural treasures that remained following the World's Columbian Exposition, including the gamelan.


Java: The Hut
A traditional Javanese hut weathers a Chicago winter on the Midway Plaisance at the Columbian Exposition of 1893.

In the late 1970s, a group of musicians began to meet regularly at the Field Museum to play gamelan music on those very instruments. In 1980 we formed Friends of the Gamelan, Inc. for the purpose of acquiring our own iron gamelan. It was forged in the workshops of Pak Dutosudarma, the official gamelan maker to the sultan of Surakarta (Solo) in central Java. Its name, Nyai Panjang  Sari, translates as "the venerable essence of gamelan music." It is a full double-tuning gamelan, having both slendro and pélog tuning systems.

In 2000 we acquired a full bronze gamelan with the help of our friend Midiyanto. This gamelan is originally from Wonogiri Central Java and is named Sri Sedånå for the Hindu rice goddess Dewi Sri and her brother Sedånå.

Practice sessions are held regularly at Hyde Park Union Church, which is only a short walk away from the 1893 site of the Java Village. Like a gong cycle, the history of gamelan music in Chicago has come full circle.

Our Performance Ensemble rehearses weekly and gives concerts and workshops throughout the year. Introductory gamelan classes are held free of charge every autumn. Contact intro@chicagogamelan.org for more information.

Friends of the Gamelan enjoys a close relationship with the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Chicago. The Consulate has graciously provided us with access to its exquisite bronze gamelan, and we have participated in many memorable performances in partnership with Consulate staff.

Our repertoire is very rich and diverse, spanning everything from centuries-old, traditional Javanese compositions to contemporary works, some of them written by our own members. Our performances of modern compositions for gamelan by Lou Harrison (1927-2003) are especially notable.

We have been privileged to work with many outstanding gamelan musicians from both Java and the US, including Joko Sutrisno, Purbo Asmoro, Harjito, Sumaryono, Midiyanto, Hartono, Minarno, Raharja, Sumarsam, and F. X. Widaryanto.