Gamelan Padhang Moncar recreated Jack Body’s first composition for gamelan, ‘So Short the Life’ as part of a choral concert by Nota Bene at Wellington’s Sacred Heart Cathedral on 7 May 2017. The piece was composed for the opening of the new School of Music building at Victoria University in 1989.
Jack described the piece as containing “few specific references to traditional gamelan composition. Instead, I have tried to focus on the nature of the instruments themselves, the attack and decay of the tones, and most especially the rich spectrum of overtones within each sound.” (jackbody.com)
The text is adapted from Chaucer who was quoting Hippocrates: ‘So short the life, so long the craft to learn’ – Ars long, vita brevis.”
“I had the idea that the gamelan speaks but that if we listen very carefully we can actually hear voices inside the gamelan. Perhaps that’s something to do with friends that have departed - that the memories stay with us.”
Recreating the piece was a challenge as Jack’s handwritten score was a little cryptic to understand (see sample below). Using an audio recording of the original performance provided by Nga Taonga Sound and Vision and under the direction of Gareth Farr, who had been one of the original performers, we were able to successfully recreate the piece, albeit in somewhat shorter form.
The piece was very warmly received in the context of a concert of several of Jack’s choral works, juxtaposed against simlar works by Benjamin Britten. The Wellington Young Voices children’s choir came and sat near the gamelan to see and hear the piece which benefited from the superb acoustic of the cathedral. See a review of the concert here.
The concert was opened by our director Budi S Putra who sang a macapat verse, accompanied by himself (gender), Tristan Carter (violin), and Pippa Strom (gong).
Bedhug tiga datan arsa guling
padhang bulan kekencar ing latar
thenguk thenguk lungguh dhewe
angin midit mangidul
saya nggreges rasaning ati
rumangsa yen wus lola
dudu sanak dudu kadang
neng pondhokan sayekti nandhang prihatin
dhuh nyawa gondhelana.
The opening work, a traditional Macapat sung by Budi Putra, director of the Gamelan Padhang Moncar of VUW, was delivered in the rich and astonishingly resonant voice that Putra has long been recognized for. The violin of Tristan Carter danced a bridge between music worlds.
Three strikes of the drum and still no desire to sleep
the moonlight shines on the courtyard
sitting all alone, lost in thought
the wind blows to the south
making my heart feel even colder
I feel like an orphan
how is it possible that I have
in this place away from home, it causes such sorrow
oh God, give me strength
Gamelan Padhang Moncar played Jack Body’s So Short the life – a lively, lovely, poignant piece, being played close to the second anniversary of the death of this much loved composer. ‘Vita brevis’ indeed, but ‘ars longa’. The gamelan instruments produce familiar sounds yet are played without the intensity of interlocking patterns of the traditional gamelan music we are accustomed to hearing – as though voices from the past join the players, and a microphone involved as a musical instrument helps carry the sound towards the future. A remarkable composition.
Performers: Stephanie Cairns, Tristan Carter, Megan Collins, Marie Direen, Dave Edwards, Judith Exley, Jo Hilder, Alisa Hogan, Jack Hooker, Mike Jones, Rupert Snook, Pippa Strom, Clare Tattersall (Judith and Marie were also part of the original 1989 performance)