Back to Gamelan
To our surprise, Pittsburgh was considerably warmer than the Bay Area--around 70 rather than the normal 20-30. Do we need such rapid global warming? Even today the temperatures were more what I would have expected for a warmish winter day in Berkeley or San Francisco.
All these practicalities aside, however, I am now enrolled in gamelan for the first time in many years. When I went today, I was rather nervous that I would have forgotten everything I had once known. After all, I last played not too long before my current teacher began study. For that matter, I learned Indonesian-style, by trying to follow what I was shown, and without the benefit of any information about theory or style. I was always getting lost midway through, although presumably I became somewhat more adept in my second and third years.
American gamelan teachers try, from what I've heard, to combine the experiential with some information of a more theoretical and musicological variety. I like the idea of this, but since few of us were new this semester, the first fifteen minutes or so of class were relatively alarming because those who had studied previously were expected to answer questions about the music. I only know Western music theory, and not a great deal of that.
Things improved once we began to play. The first instrument I was put on was not one I recalled having played before, but it was easy once I grasped how quickly I was supposed to repeat my pattern, which took awhile. Next I went to the saron, which I had often played. Remembering how to strike and mute the keys was no problem, but I wasn't sure how easily I would remember the patterns, as I don't do well with either numbers or memorization.
To my surprise, it was all much easier than in the past. We spent awhile playing a piece written by my former teacher, and although I had heard it before, I assume he wrote it well after my departure from his group. I caught on to the patterns with astounding speed, and although I made occasional mistakes, I didn't get lost. I was able to hear the relationship of the different parts in a way I hadn't before, and could use the other instruments as cues.
All in all, it reminded me somewhat of skiing, because when I took up skiing, I didn't regard myself as very adept at sports, yet the skiing came fairly easily to me. In this case, I always enjoyed being in the gamelan but wasn't a very fast learner, whereas now I was able to settle in and play without much trouble, in a meditative yet conscious manner.
I'm not sure exactly why it is that almost everything I've done in the past eight years, whether skiing, graduate school, gamelan, or even (to a lesser degree) speaking Czech, is much easier than I would have expected. Some portion of my brain must be functioning abnormally well (compensating, I suppose, for worsening ability to hold onto objects, remember what I was just about to do, and speak without jumbling my words).
It's nice to know that some parts of life get easier and easier and become much more fun.