Gamelan arrived in New Zealand in late 1974, when ethnomusicologist Allan Thomas imported an antique Gamelan from Cirebon on the north coast of West Java, assisted by Jack Body. As they later wrote: “About 25 years ago we set out on bicycles into the countryside with the price for the instruments and wayang puppets (the equivalent cost of a certain number of bags of rice).”

Thumbnail Dominion 19 Nov 1974 Nzbc GongsPrior to this, in May 1974, the Indonesian Ambassador had presented the NZBC Symphony Orchestra with a set of gongs which had remained unplayed until Jack Body composed a piece for them with guitar on his return from Java. View press clippings from 1974.

After a brief time in Auckland, Allan brought his Cirebon gamelan down to Wellington where it was played initially at the Wellington Teachers’ Training College (a University Extension class was offered in June 1975 for 6 evening meetings for a fee of $4) and then as part of Victoria University’s musicology programme where Allan was employed as ethnomusicologist.

In 1975, the Indonesian embassy received a complete central Javanese gamelan, one of twelve which were commissioned by the then First Lady Ibu Tien Suharto and presented to various embassies around the world. Allan Thomas taught gamelan to staff and others at the Indonesian embassy using these instruments.

Young Allan Thomas teaching gamelan

Allan Thomas teaching gamelan at the Indonesian Embassy in Fitzherbert Tce Photo: Evening Post, 23 June 1975

Professor Jenny McLeod of Victoria University of Wellington’s music department was keen for the university to have a Javanese gamelan and in March 1976 the Indonesian Ambassador, Mr Soekamto Sayidiman, agreed that the music department should have the pelog section of the gamelan on permanent loan. In 1990, the NZ School of Music commissioned slendro instruments to be made to match the pelog half so that the university would have a complete gamelan with which to study.

The cirebon gamelan continued to be played regularly into the mid 1980s and appeared at the South Pacific Arts Festival in Rotorua in 1976.

South Pacific Arts Festival, Rotorua, 1976

Viv Thompson, Paul Barrett, and Mark Dashper playing the cirebon gamelan at the South Pacific Arts Festival (1976). Photo: Rotorua Press.

In 1983 the Embassy engaged the first teacher of gamelan, Midiyanto, a dalang (puppeteer) selected from the best new graduates of the performing arts institute (STSI) in Solo, Central Java. Midiyanto was employed full-time as local staff in the information section of the embassy, specifically to establish gamelan in Wellington, working half-time at both the Embassy and at the School of Music training interested people, including students and staff.

Midiyanto left in 1986 to take up teaching positions in the US and is currently at UC Berkeley. The position of gamelan expert at the Indonesian Embassy was next filled by Joko Sutrisno, who was here from 1988 until 1995. University credit courses in gamelan performance were introduced for the first time in 1993.

In 1990, a short magazine piece from TV arts show 10AM showcased Victoria’s gamelan orchestra in action. Allan Thomas and Jack Body talked about traditional gamelan, and the access point it offers into Asian culture for New Zealanders. Body also provided his own spin on a gamelan composition.

In 1992, during Joko Sutrisno’s tenure, the name of Padhang Moncar was given to the group, a Javanese name which can be interpreted in several ways.

Padhang means brightness or daylight.
Moncar means growing or developing vigorously.
Padhang Moncar can thus refer to the sunrise (the growing light), and the fact that in Aotearoa we are the first gamelan in the world to see the new day. Padhang Moncar can also be interpreted as harmony and growth and thus the name can reflect the aspirations of the group.

The gamelan has become an integral part of what is now the New Zealand School of Music, with a core group of regular players comprising current and former students, alongside interested members from the wider community. A number of the members have studied in Java on the Indonesian Government Scholarship programme (Dharmasiswa).

Early gamelan activities included:

  • 1974/75 - demonstrations and workshops at Auckland’s Epsom Showgrounds and Mt Eden Prison
  • 1976 - performances in Sonic Circus II (contemporary music festival) in Wellington and at South Pacific Festival of the Arts in Rotorua
  • 1977 - first performance of classic Cirebon music at the opening of Symphony House, Wellington
  • 1978 - workshops and performances at the Dowse Gallery Puppet exhibition, Lower Hutt, Wellington. (Jack Body returned from two years in Indonesia)
  • 1979 - Malaysian gamelan repertoire researched by Bee Hoon Tee. Third World Cafe programme included gamelan.
  • 1979 - Recording made of one of the first NZ compositions for gamelan: Ostinato For Gamelan by David Farquhar at the “Festival of New Zealand music and sound installations” by New Zealand composers for the National art gallery, Wellington, 18 October - 11 November (“New Directions in New Zealand Music” LP pressed by EMI - PRA 9001)
  • 1980 - gamelan workshops and performances as part of Te iti Kahurangi for the Central Regional Arts Council
  • 1981 - Cirebon gamelan performance at Nambassa (a five day music and peace festival) - a memorable event that was very hot but VERY wet - the gamelan truck got stuck in the mud and had to be tractored out ….
Nambassa 1981

Judith Exley and Lora Mills at Nambassa (1981) Photo: Nambassa.com

  • 1982 - Regional Tour to Wanganui and New Plymouth (Cirebon gamelan music accompanying slides of Cirebon batik); concert in the New Directions in New Zealand Music Festival, including David Farquhar’s compositions for Cirebon gamelan: Ostinato (1975) and Palindrome (1978).
Cirebon gamelan at New Plymouth with Allan

Cirebon Gamelan in New Plymouth (1982). Photo: Taranaki Newspapers Ltd.

Clockwise from centre front: Allan Thomas (back view) - bonang; Anna Lee Herries - saron; Stephen Hall - kendang; Marie Direen - saron; Laura Mills - gambang; Neill Duncan - kemanak; Dave Watson - ketuk; Jim Higgins - Gong; Margaret-Lynne Baxter - kenong; Judith Exley (back view) - saron panerus.

  • 1983 - Widiyanto arrives as teacher/dalang. Performance as part of Asia in New Zealand, a programme of music and dance from several Asian countries held at Government House, Wellington; performance and workshop at the National Music Education Conference and at an Indonesian Exhibition at the National Museum, Wellington; visit from composer, Lou Harrison, and instrument builder, William Colvig as Fulbright scholars - Harrison composed Ketawang Wellington and Colvig tuned both gamelan and made suling.
  • 1984 - Gamelan compositions performed at the Asia Pacific Festival and Composers’ Conference in Wellington, including a performance of Ton De Leeuw’s Gending.
  • 1985 - “Summer City” children’s gamelan workshops
Drawing Of Jack And Allan Playing 1985

Jack Body and Allan Thomas playing Gamelan bonang and kemanak at Peter Beatson’s wedding. Sketch by Janet Paul, 1985.

  • 1986 - Performance in the Parks and Peace Festival; first performances of Cirebon and Sundanese degung repertoire.
  • 1987 - Regional Tour to Palmerston North and Napier with Eddy Pursarbaryanto as dalang. A cassette of traditional Javanese music and new compositions is produced, featuring compositions that were performed at the 1987 Sonic Circus.
  • 1988 - Joko Sutrisno and Tri Supartini arrive as teachers and performers. Tour to perform in Auckland at the University of Auckland, Elam Art School and Auckland Museum, with Widiyanto as dalang. Gareth Farr, student in Auckland at the time, is inspired by seeing gamelan for the first time.
  • 1989 - Regional Tour to Christchurch and Nelson with Jody Diamond
  • 1990 - Regional Tour to many centres in the North Island
  • 1991 - Regional Tour to Wanganui and New Plymouth
  • 1992 - Regional Tour to Masterton, Porirua and Wainuiomata
  • 1993 - South Island Regional Tour to Oamaru, Queenstown and Dunedin, performing with dalang Joko Susilo in Dunedin
  • 1993/1994 - Six week tour to Indonesia led by Joko and Tri Sutrisno and Jack Body
  • 1998 - small group musical accompaniment to ‘The Butterflies Evil Spell’, a theatrical setting of a poem of Frederico Lorca directed by Bert Van Dyk and Helen Todd, with musical direction by Cristian Pilditch
  • 1999 - Performance at The Gathering: a group of intrepid adventurers made an appearance in the ambient zone  at this festival shortly before it was shut down and removed due to the unseasonal climatic conditions.
  • 2001 - premiere of “After Bach” for gamelan and massed strings by Jack Body at the XIXth Viola Congress concert
  • 2002 - Second tour to Indonesia; First appearance at the Yogyakarta International Gamelan Festival
  • 2003 - Gareth Farr purchases a set of Balinese gong kebyar instruments and imports them to Wellington, forming Gamelan Taniwha Jaya.
Early GPM graphic

Graphic from Gamelan Padhang Moncar’s first website in the early 2000s


This chronology is based on Allan Thomas’ article “Gamelan in New Zealand: a chronology” (Balungan, II:3, December 1986, pp 41-42) and documents held at the Alexander Turnbull Library (MS-Papers-9892-08 and MS-Papers-9892-15)