The Other Orchestras (part 1): Ethnic Orchestras


There’s such a problem with Eurocentric terminology when discussing analogues to a Western institution found in other cultures. That’s no different than with orchestras. I’ve used the phrase “Ethnic Orchestras” in reference to large ensembles modeled after the European-styled Orchestra (e.g. Traditional Chinese Orchestras), but at the same time, some of these large ensembles are definitely found within European countries (e.g. Mandolin Orchestras).

When I’m referring to large ensembles that have had little connection to the European-styled Orchestra and that are native to countries (e.g. Gamelan) I usually call those “Non-Western Orchestras.”

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Indonesia Cello and Kroncong Ensembles

Keronchong ensemble of Indonesia.

While doing an image search for “insect cellos” I came across this image (below) of a kroncong ensemble which has a cello in it.

Kroncong (Keroncong) ensemble in Indonisia

Quick reading shows that this folk ensemble has its origins in Portuguese influence during the 16th century and has evolved into what it is today.  Obviously, what’s I’m most interested in is when did the cello become a part of the standard instrumentation–and how long have they been making scrolls with holes for three pegs rather than four.  Obviously a number of the videos I’ve come across just seem to have a normal cello with one peg missing as they only use three strings in this style.

The wikipedia article (which is only a good exploratory source for anything dealing with research) states:

The cello may have 3 gut or nylon strings and the chords are plucked rapidly, often with a unique skipped-beat using the thumb and one finger. This instrument then adds both rhythm and tone.

The first video I watched was this one:

Which just demonstrates the cello alone (with singing).  Here is a video of a kroncong ensemble:

All this is just telling me that I need to start blogging about Non-Western Cello Traditions, and in particular my long abandoned Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello.  But of immediate concern for me is figuring out the style and finding a song or two to sing in this wonderful new musical genre I had no idea existed until just an hour ago!

Modern Cello Techniques


Quartertone excercise from Modern Cello Techniques

Modern Cello Techniques is a fantastic new website dedicated to extended cello techniques by Chicago based cellist, Russell Rolen.  Of special interest to my blog readers who also are interested in Arabic and Turkish music, there is a section on Quartertones and a page with some samples from usage of them by Western classical composers.

Be advisd, though, that Western composers use quartertones and microtones in very different ways than you’d find them used in Middle Eastern or South Asian Music so don’t expect to find much that would be useful for pedagogical or learning purposes if you’re interested in non-Western microtonality.  Also, see my caveat about the whole issue of microtones here and here which help to explain some of these differences between the West and the Rest.

What’s really wonderful are all the exercises such as the one picture in this post.  As I slowly brainstorm how to start an Arabic Orchestra, I’ve only given passing thoughts on how to train the string players how to learn the ‘scales’ used in the music.  I actually hadn’t thought of approaching it in the same methodical way that our Western music training does in the copious number of method books for instruments that we have.  Mr. Rolen’s website just pointed me in a direction that I hadn’t thought about in this context and I may have to start developing some form of method book for training Western Classically trained string players in many of the Eastern Classical music styles!