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MIT musicians perform at MFA

Balinese gamelan, Korean drumming and secular Jewish klezmer are featured
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Three MIT-based musical groups, each drawing from a different cultural tradition, will perform over the next two weeks at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as part of its "MFA for the Holidays" series (Dec. 9-17), featuring an array of eclectic performances taking place each day at various locations within the museum.

Two MIT student-led musical groups, Oori and KlezMITron, and members of the MIT-based Gamelan Galak Tika, will be among the performers featured in the nine-day series of events.

On Tuesday, Dec. 12, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., two members of Gamelan Galak Tika, the Boston area's only Balinese gamelan, will perform in the MFA's Asian Galleries. Christine Southworth (S.B. 2002) and Sachi Sato will perform a Gender Wayang, one of the most ancient musical ensembles existing in Bali and the smallest complete Balinese gamelan. Featuring two or four players, Gender Wayang music accompanies shadow puppet theater and incorporates delicate interlocking melodies and active contrapuntal movement.

Appearing on Thursday, Dec. 14, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Koch Gallery, Oori will perform a traditional Korean art form known as pungmul, an energetic performance art that incorporates exhilarating drumming, circle dancing and singing.

Composed of students from MIT, Harvard, Boston University and other schools, as well as community members from the greater Boston area, Oori (a Korean term meaning "us") "follows the theme of pungmul by embracing everyone and excluding no one," said Minyoung Jang, president of the group and a senior biology major.

Originally performed during celebrations such as harvest and religious folk rituals, pungmul utilizes four basic percussive instruments: the jang-goo (an hourglass-shaped drum), kwaeng-ga-ri (a small gong), jing (a larger gong) and buk (a barrel drum). Jang, who has participated in the group since she was a freshman, recalls the first few times she saw pungmul performances before coming to MIT. "I really loved the energy. They embodied the phrase, 'bursting with joy.'"

Performing in the museum's Lower Rotunda on Sunday, Dec. 17, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. is KlezMITron (previously MIT Klez), a klezmer group comprised of two violins, a piano and bass, played by Scott Arfin, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and computer science. Klezmer music, which originated centuries ago in Eastern Europe, is a traditional but secular music of the Jewish people that was performed during joyous occasions, particularly weddings.

Klezmer has experienced "a renaissance in the United States in the past 20 years or so," said Arfin. While KlezMITron usually performs traditional klezmer music, modern day klezmer artists, he says, perform traditional tunes with both traditional and modern interpretations such as fusion with jazz and bluegrass. The music is "designed for dancing and celebration rather than listening, but modern klezmer is becoming more and more common in the concert hall," he said.

While some music is derived from liturgical melodies, klezmer music is never performed during worship and therefore remains a secular art form, existing solely for the purpose of celebration.

Admission to these events is free with museum admission. Through MIT's university membership at the MFA, MIT students can enjoy the museum's regular exhibitions and cultural programs for free with a current student ID; MIT staff can borrow one of eight membership passes from the MIT Office of the Arts for free admission.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 13, 2006 (download PDF).

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