PITTSFIELD — The words, so foreign and mysterious, flow from Beth Collier of Pittsfield quite naturally: Denpassar, a village; gender, a sort of a xylophone; gamelan, an orchestra; arja, opera; and tembong, songs.
The musical theme is no accident. Collier, a senior at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., left this week for several months of intensive study of ethnic musical instruments and voice in Bali.
Through a Fenwick Grant offered by Holy Cross, the school’s most prestigious academic grant, Collier will replace traditional senior year classes with two months of intense study of Indonesian gamelan music. Upon her return to Holy Cross, she will create a CD and write a thesis, presenting her work.
A 1996 honors graduate of Maine Central Institute, Collier brings an award-winning background in piano and flute to her new love: Balinese music.
“I began piano in first grade and flute in fifth grade,” Collier said this weekend. While a student at MCI, Collier often garnered state awards for her musical ability.
As part of Holy Cross’ theater group last year, Collier spent a month in Bali, studying the instruments that make up the gamelan, which is a specialized collection of Balinese instruments, in her capacity as a music major. She had seen a gamelan at Holy Cross in her freshman year and fell even more in love with gamelan music when the school purchased one recently.
A gamelan consists of very ornate instruments, including bamboo resonating tubes, a metallophone, which is a xylophone-like instrument, and bronze bars played with mallets. “It has a wavy, shimmery, mesmerizing quality,” Collier said, as she was preparing for her 24-hour flight to Indonesia.
“All the instruments are in pairs,” said Collier, “and each is tuned just slightly off from its pair. It sometimes sounds wrong to American ears, but to me, the sound is absolute magic.”