Burton Hathow Forest Gamelan

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The Forest Gamelan project began as an experiment in 2016-17 with just a few outdoor instruments in our forest area. It was an attempt to integrate Music more closely with our other outdoor learning and Forest School activities. It proved to be popular with the children, so during 2017-18 we evolved and expanded it considerably.

Taking its inspiration from Indonesian gamelan orchestras, the instruments are a variety of percussion all tuned to a pentatonic scale. The current line up includes bass and treble tubulums (drain pipes, played with flip-flops), bass and treble xylophone bars (ordinary construction timber), aluminium tubular chimes and a paired bass and snare drum made from farm tubs.

The children have been involved in planning, and in some cases, helping to install the instruments. This involves learning about the technology and physics involved in instrument making and tuning. They have enjoyed the experimental nature of the work– like the bouncy-ball mallets, that disintegrated on contact! They also know that the gamelan is not a fixed thing, and can continually expand and adapt as we have more ideas.

With the fine weather we have enjoyed during the summer term, we have been able to take every music lesson for years 2–6 outside. Noticeable improvements have been made in ensemble playing and rhythmic accuracy in other groups. The older children have also been able to compose their own patterns and short pieces for the gamelan. Above all, as a learning tool it is great fun for the children, and as a result engagement is very high.

Towards the end of the summer term we decided to try to make a music video using the gamelan instruments and an English folk song the senior choir have been learning, Thresherman. The choir are a non-auditioned group comprising all of years 4 - 6; the percussion ensemble are a mixed group of year 4 –6 children who auditioned to be on the team. We have enjoyed the process of developing the arrangement, learning and recording it, then recording the choir vocals, and finally using iPads to record and mix video clips for the finished product. Click on the link below to be directed to our short film.