Educate Your Prisoners With Gamelan!
I was born Javanese, I speak Javanese language (at all levels), I enjoy Javanese dance (I don’t dance though), and its gamelan- a Javanese percussion which gives me a relaxing sound, sometimes.
Gamelan can be found in many Indonesian ethnic groups like Balinese, Sundanese, Javanese, Sumatran, and some in Borneo. It’s truly an Indonesian heritage even tough the younger generation does not really learn to play it anymore. I can still recall when George W Bush visited Singapore, the school children welcomed him at the airport with Gamelan music.
Here’s one more interesting news regarding Gamelan as used to educate prisoners. Did it work? Below is the detail from www.prisonerseducation.org.uk.
“Pleasure, relaxation, inspiration – and I’ve never said those words about anything before,” Participant.
In 2003 Cathy Eastburn set up the Good Vibrations Project in five UK prisons. Its aim was to introduce Gamelan (Indonesian bronze percussion) through workshops, to help prisoners develop key skills such as team-working, communication and concentration.
“I’ve only talked to 4 or 5 people since I’ve been here [more than a year] – I’ve talked to far more this week, because we’re all the same, we’re all here with a clean slate, and I feel much better,” Participant.
A Gamelan is played as group, so it is an ideal way to teach communication and teamwork. In order to successfully play the instrument, players must listen to one another and co-operate to bring the multiple instruments together to achieve a melodic piece of music. There are no leaders and players are encouraged to swap instruments, which promotes mutual understanding and unity. It develops concentration skills because there are frequent changes in tempo, dynamics, etc. Players have to pay attention to ensure they join in at the appropriate time.
The pilot went very well, and things just mushroomed. Today, participating prisons range from maximum security to young offenders’ institutions. Good Vibrations has been an independent charity since April 2009.
In each prison, the scheme begins with a ‘taster’ session, to introduce prisoners to the instruments and show them the basics. This is followed by several days of workshops for anyone interested in learning more.
“It helped me learn about myself - that I can actually achieve something,” Participant.
Curiosity about the Gamelan engages prisoners. It awakens an interest in learning for people who might otherwise not get involved in prison education. Knowing they are able to achieve and having that achievement applauded builds the self-confidence and self-esteem of participants. Prior musical knowledge is not necessary, so it is accessible to all.
Throughout the week, prisoners are taught traditional Javanese pieces. They also learn to improvise and develop their own group compositions. Not only does this give them a creative outlet, the sounds of the Gamelan instruments have a calming and stress relieving effect.
During the course Good Vibrations works with prison staff, using the Gamelan course as a springboard for related activities including art, cookery and textiles; all inspired by the Gamelan and other aspects of Indonesian culture.
The project also introduces other Indonesian artforms, such as Javanese dance and wayang (shadow puppetry). Sometimes, particularly when working with young offenders, the course will include a music technology element, enabling participants to learn about music IT and sampling. They then develop editing skills, creating their own tracks using what they’ve sampled.
“The music made me relax. I enjoyed being in the team. The highlight was the play-through at the end, because I had learnt something and I felt good doing it,” Participant.
At the end of the course, the players get the opportunity to perform the pieces they have learned and composed, to fellow prisoners, staff and sometimes to visitors.
Finally, participants are given CDs of their prison’s efforts. This consists of recordings from the final performance and highlights from the whole week. The CDs are professionally mastered and designed, and provide a valued, tangible reminder for each individual participant of what they have achieved.
“The entire experience is so uplifting for everyone involved and the women learn so much without realising it (it is a superb example of “education by stealth”!) in terms of their social skills that it is an absolutely invaluable addition to our programme here,” Head of Learning & Skills.
For prison education staff, the workshops have been successful and now Good Vibrations has expanded its work to prisons throughout the country.
“Gamelan has opened a new door, it could change how I think,” Participant.