Music Department Records

The following post was written by Doreen Mangels, a graduate student in the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. This semester Doreen was an intern in Special Collections & Archives. We are grateful for her excellent work!

I recently finished processing two series in the Music Department Records collection.  The first series includes proposals, correspondence, and other print materials relating to the creation of Wesleyan’s doctoral program in ethnomusicology.  These records date back to the 1960s.  Wesleyan was a real pioneer in the world music field.

The second series contains about 400 photographs—mostly in black and white—of music performances at the university.  In some of the shots, the performers are posed for the photographer—stiff, formal, with smiles firmly in place; in others, they’re captured in the middle of a concert or recital, and we can see on their faces intense concentration and, at times, the exhilaration of performing.

In addition to photos of faculty, many student groups are pictured:  the Wesleyan Glee Club, the Jibers, the Cardinals, instrumental ensembles, the Wesleyan Band on the field.  These date from the 1940s to the 1980s and give a real sense of the music tradition at the university.

The collection also contains images of world music performers who visited Wesleyan.  These photos are fascinating.  We see artists who specialized in African, Indian, Indonesian, Korean, and Native American music, the instruments they played, and the traditional dress they wore while performing.  I was particularly intrigued by the photos of Indonesian performers.  There are shots of dancers wearing elaborate armbands, headdresses, and masks, some with long, protruding fangs.  There are also pictures of Wesleyan’s own Javanese gamelan orchestra.


My favorites were photos of a performance of Javanese wayang kulit–a shadow play with flat leather puppets—given at Wesleyan in 1970.  A program in the collection explains that this was the first all-night performance of its kind in the United States.  The accompanying explanatory notes describe the significance of the imagery and chants and how the dalang—the puppeteer—manipulates the puppets, delivers the dialog in many voices, describes the scenes, and comments on the meaning of the play.  In the photos, we see the behind-the-screen action of dalang Oemartopo as well as the magical images the audience saw.

2 thoughts on “Music Department Records”

  1. We visited Wesleyan U. in about 1981 or 1982 when on a college search with one or our children. I vaguely recall visiting a building that house a Gamelan, or some sort of Javanese instrument, that seemed to be tubes that took up a lot of space and seemed to be on or under the floor. We got the impression that is was played by one person, like a pipe organ, but my recollection is so hazy that I am not sure of any details. The instrument we saw does not seem like the Gamelan instruments pictured on the web.

    Does anyone now have any idea what I might have seen?

    David Mainey, Katonah, NY

  2. The Javanese gamelan at Wesleyan is housed in the World Music Hall in Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts. Is that what you saw? It is an ensemble composed primarily of metallophone and gong type instruments, played in small and large ensemble groups. The instruments are on the floor, and players sit cross-legged in front of them. Some of the instruments have resonator tubes.

    You can see some photos of individual instruments at Wesleyan’s Virtual Instrument Museum ( or search “Wesleyan” and “gamelan” at to find excerpts from concerts.

    Take a look and let us know if the Javanese gamelan fits your recollection

    –Special Collections & Archives staff

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