Woodside’s Gamelan Carmen – possibly a World Premiere


YEAR 4 children at Woodside Academy stirred up an exciting cultural combination last week with Indonesian Gamelan and French composer, Georges Bizet’s opera, Carmen. Working with expert Gamelan practitioner Sarah Stuchfield, children learnt to play the Gamelan percussion instruments consisting of various gongs, drums and metallophones. Children then made Indonesian style shadow puppets which they used to perform the Carmen story to the sound of the Gamelan orchestra, interspaced with songs from the opera in the western tradition. Each of the three year 4 classes performed their own version of the opera to parents who were also served Indonesian snacks of banana and sweet potato fritters as traditionally eaten at Gamelan performances in Java.

Woodside Principal Edward Caines said, “We believe that children have an entitlement to the arts for their own sake but there were some very clear benefits to children’s language development from this activity. Children had the confidence to first improvise and then perform their own extensive scripts because they were voicing a puppet rather than standing up and acting.”

Both Gamelan and the opera Carmen are projects available from the Thurrock-based Royal Opera House Trail Blazers scheme and this project was also supported by the Indonesian Embassy. Woodside is about to acquire a set of Gamelan instruments that can be used in the school long term and is interested in supporting any other schools interested in trying this kind of activity.

Sarah Stuchfield, gamelan and puppetry practitioner with Gamelan Anak Ledjar said: “It has been such a pleasure to work with three classes full of creative and happy children along with the supportive and enthusiastic staff team. Logistically this was a very complex performance event, but it was handled so well by the children as they gained confidence over the project span. The performances were outstanding – and made all the better by being accompanied by traditional fried banana snacks!”

“This is my fifth year working with Woodside Academy with Gamelan Anak Ledjar and it is always a wonderful to work in such an outstandingly creative school. I am looking forward to bringing a long-term residency of my other gamelan, The Venerable Enchanter, to Woodside Academy in the coming months and supporting them with their learning”.

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