Oberlin Blogs

The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades / Fugue in G Minor / Gamelansemble

February 28, 2024

Marcus Jensen '27

I have long been of the opinion that February’s only redeeming quality is its length - or rather, its comparative lack thereof. By this point of the year in Minnesota, you’re beyond done with ice and snow but not quite ready for the mud fest that is early spring (hello, allergies), and as such I never looked forward to the second month of the year. This time around, though, it was positively delightful, in a no-news-good-news sort of way. I’m taking my first 300-level class looking at the idea of gender in Medieval Europe (trying to get the reading done well ahead of time), diving into the politics of abortion post-Dobbs (which often requires a walk to unwind afterwards), and examining the long 19th century in my music of the Romantic era course alongside an introduction to ethnomusicology. The most exciting (or, I suppose, the newest) things that I picked up in February have to be the various musical activities/groups I joined - namely, the folk/jazz a capella group Round Midnight, organ lessons, and the gamelan ensemble (or, as I like to refer to it, the gamelansemble…).

Granted, I am very new to all of these activities and should not be taken as an in-depth expert on any of them, but I like to think that my relative naivete can be an asset in describing first impressions as well. A friend of mine had joined Round Midnight in the fall, and after seeing their concert in Fairchild Chapel last semester I wanted to join for their next cycle, assuming that would be next fall. Lo and behold, posts and posters went up earlier this year advertising open spots for tenors / basses in February, and at the insistence of my friends I signed up for an audition time. Having switched my piece roughly fifteen minutes beforehand (from Shenandoah to Natten går tunga fjät, the traditional Swedish song sung on Sankta Lucia Day), the actual tryout went well, I think…or, at least it went well enough for me to join the group! If you haven’t listened to Sufjan Stevens’ The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades, do yourself a favor and find it on a service or come see Round Midnight’s study break performance! (Shameless self-promotion: check.)

Somewhat (extremely) naively, I approached organ with the mindset of ‘I took piano for ten years, ergo this should be easy,’ and (spoiler alert) it really, really is not. The pedals are part of it, yes, but the entire structure of how you play the instrument is completely different. With the piano, each key must strike the string as you play it, producing sound that way - with the organ, if you bump a key accidentally, that pipe is going to sound at full volume no matter what you do, meaning fingerings for each piece are extremely important to follow - no making it up on the fly, as I was perhaps (read: very) guilty of at some points in my piano playing… Which and how fingers sustain notes, too, is alien to me and I’m having some difficulty convincing my latent muscle memory of the piano keyboard to ease off the gas, so to speak. Despite (and, indeed, because of) all of these difficulties, I am really enjoying organing (a very real word) and can’t wait to perform in Finney someday.

Which brings me to my last (but certainly not least!) new musical experience of the month - Javanese gamelan ensemble. Originally, I had planned to take Musical Union (the mixed college and community choir) for credit this semester, thus fulfilling one of my two ensemble credits for a musical studies major. Unfortunately for me, I had a schedule conflict that made itself apparent the second week back and I was left scrambling to fill a credit void for the semester. Fortunately, I remembered the gamelan ensemble from fall semester, which I was extremely interested in but unable to take part in due to schedule conflicts (oh, how the turn tables…). Led by my ethnomusicology professor, the ensemble meets for two hours every week and practices various pieces that completely challenge my (Western) conception of how music works and progresses. In a similar way to organ, I am having to rework parts of my muscle memory in order to fully grasp how the gamelan comes together as a performance group.

Time will tell what becomes of these new experiences, but at the moment, I am excited to continue and see what the future holds! (Pithy sign off: check!)

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