College Professor I Made Lasmawan Spreads the Art of Indonesian Music

Professor I Made Lasmawan directing and performing in the 2023 CC Homecoming Ensembles Showcase.
Professor I Made Lasmawan directing and performing in the 2023 CC Homecoming Ensembles Showcase.

For 30 years, Colorado College Professor and Bali native I Made Lasmawan has brought the art of traditional Indonesian ensemble music to various US colleges and universities. He now focuses on spreading the art of gamelan with the Rocky Mountain Region.

For centuries, gamelan has defined Indonesia’s culture and history. Stemming from the Javanese word gamel, or “to strike,” gamelan is a type of orchestra indigenous to the islands of Java and Bali. These musical ensembles typically consist of various instruments, including gongs, xylophones, metallophones, bamboo flutes, and stringed instruments.

Although the origins of gamelan are unknown, it is believed that this ensemble music developed alongside Javanese mythology, predating the introduction of Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim culture. Presently, only two predominant styles of gamelan persist in Indonesia: Javanese and Balinese. Whereas Javanese gamelan is characterized as a calm, meditative approach, Balinese performances are marked by their energetic and “loud” tempo changes. The shared intricacies of percussion in both orchestra styles distinguish gamelan from Western music and contribute to its cultural significance. In 2021, gamelan was added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“Gamelan is not just about the music,” emphasized Professor I Made Lasmawan, Director of Gamelan at Colorado College, in an interview with the East-West Center. “It is about the culture, the tradition, the way of life, and most importantly, connecting and respecting individuals,” he further added.

Professor I Made Lasmawan, or Pak (“Sir”) Made, is a 66-year-old Bali native who immigrated to the United States in 1990 to share his love of music and Indonesian history with the American public. Pak Made began his career by studying the art of gamelan in both Bali and Java, earning a master’s degree in traditional music and teaching in Central Java for 12 years. When he turned 32, he traveled to the United States for the first time to teach Balinese gamelan at San Diego State University. Though he only worked as a faculty member there for two years, this job kickstarted his mission of integrating the Indonesian orchestra into the American music scene.

Since then, he has devoted his talents and time to popularizing Javanese and Balinese gamelan across college and university campuses, starting and developing programs in the following places:

  • Colorado College
  • Pomona College
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
  • University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • University of Wyoming
  • University of Montana
  • Brigham Young University
  • Metropolitan State University of Denver
  • Emory University
  • University of Georgia
  • Wake Forest University
  • Miami University
  • Kentucky University

When asked in the interview why he chose to support programs in the Southwest, Midwest, and South, he simply responded, “The middle is empty, so I decided to move in the middle.” Various cities along the East and West Coasts of the United States already have established academic programs or social music groups to support Indonesian gamelan orchestras. Given some Americans are unaware of basic Indonesian history or geography, Pak Made finds it important to promote his country’s culture in underserved and unexposed areas. On top of working with undergraduate students, he serves various elementary schools or community-based groups in Montana, South Dakota, Illinois, Arizona, and Colorado, and he coordinates with Indonesian consulates in Los Angeles and Chicago to produce city-wide concerts and transport hand-crafted instruments from Bali to the United States.

Currently, his primary focus is spreading gamelan’s presence in the Rocky Mountain Region, specifically around Colorado. As the community director of the Balinese ensemble Gamelan Tunas Mekar in Denver since 1992, Pak Made helps compose music for the group and host events at various venues, both domestically and internationally.

“Sure, [Gamelan Tunas Mekar] is a performing music group, but it’s important because it’s connected to the culture. You must learn the language and the cultural holidays, as [they are] integral to Balinese music,” said Sam Yolles, a Colorado College student and member of the Denver music group.

The ensemble consists of over twenty members, ranging from ages 18 to 65, with diverse socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. The group meets twice a week to practice, and Pak Made provides all members with instruments and traditional clothing for free. In 2022, Gamelan Tunas Mekar won the Denver Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in Arts & Culture Global Award.

Pak Made envisions a promising future for Javanese and Balinese gamelan in the United States, believing that he has "planted the seeds” for its enduring presence. He sees the art spreading throughout the country forever, teaching Americans the importance of community and connectivity over individualism and ego. Significantly, Pak Made's son is initiating his own gamelan program in Iowa to further his father’s legacy.

“Tell everyone to spread the gamelan,” said Pak Made at the end of his interview, “because gamelan [represents] morals, dedication, community, and culture.”

Video of Gamelan Tunas Mekar’s 2019 performance at the 41st Bali Arts Festival in Bali, Indonesia, photo provided by Professor I Made Lasmawan.



Denise Sievert Geronimo is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate from Colorado College, where she studied International Political Economy and Journalism. She is also 2024 Charles B. Rangel Fellow with the US Department of State.

Read the article on Asia Matters for America's website

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