Arts Desk

Angklung Players of the World, Unite!

This is what an angklung looks like.

Right now, a hall in the Indonesian Embassy is filled with boxes containing a total of 5,000 angklungs—an ancient Indonesian instrument that, when played en masse, might remind you of your elementary school bell choir. On Saturday at 4 p.m., Indonesian Embassy officials will hand them out on the National Mall just north of the Washington Monument and attempt to set the world record for the largest gathering of angklung players.

What song will the ensemble play? "We Are the World"—that treacly Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie fundraising classic.

"That song reflects … the theme of Indonesian Festival, which is celebrating multiculturalism," says embassy spokesperson Heru Soebolo. "We are different people with different nationalities and different kinds of languages and cultures, but we are one world."

We also have different musical languages—with traditional angklung tuned to a five-note Indonesian scale that sounds rather foreign to Western ears. Saturday's angklung choir, however, has been tuned to the eight-note Western scale. That's because our scale, for better or worse, has become music's lingua franca. "It's the international standard," says Soebolo.

Though only about 1,600 people have signed up so far, smart money is on the record being set Saturday—as it's never been attempted before. To participate, just show up in a red or white shirt, or sign up by emailing indofest2011@embassyofindonesia.org. You'll receive a batik scarf or bandana, and you'll get to take home your angklung.

The world record attempt is part of the Indonesian Festival, which includes cultural demonstrations and, for some reason, a performance by the '80s soft rock duo Air Supply.

Image via Flickr user asfarian, creative commons generic 2.0

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