Kendall Burks is a multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Denver, Colorado. He first discovered Balinese Gamelan in 2009 while studying at CU Boulder, where he graduated in 2012 with a degree in music composition. He joined Tunas Mekar in 2011, and his membership since then has been defined by the continual deepening and expansion of his interest and appreciation of the Balinese musical tradition. This culminated in 2018 with the creation of his composition, “Kayu Sakti” which draws heavily from traditional forms while expanding them into new territory as well. Outside of the gamelan, Kendall is active in the Denver music scene as a versatile collaborator and an adventurous recording artist and performer. He released his debut solo album, Waves, in September 2018, which can be found at his website: kendallburks.com.
Aaron has been practicing Balinese Music & Dance with Tunas Mekar since 2011, when he was first bitten by the wild bronze during his undergraduate studies in music composition at MSU Denver. When not playing gamelan, Aaron can be found designing & building music education software, improvising music with friends, and rollerblading. Aaron is currently exploring ways to combine Balinese Dance with Wizard Skating to discover new forms of human movement. Among other reasons, Aaron loves Balinese gamelan for its sense of community-oriented rhythm, deep grooves, and elaborate costumery. Aaron is a founder of the Denver-based performing arts collective Witches & Science, a member of exploratory ensembles Lé Secret & Pak Yeh, as well as an avid member of the Denver Urban Skate Troop. He loves wearing bright colors, hearing/creating experimental sound, and taking long skates on the beach (sometimes all at once).
Karen joined Tunas Mekar in 2012 with an interest in experiencing the rich musical and communal culture of gamelan. As an elementary school music teacher, Karen has the privilege of conveying the love of music to children. Karen served in the Peace Corps in Moldova and taught at an international school in Honduras. Today she is an active member of the Rocky Mountain Orff chapter of music educators and believes in the power of music education as a way of imparting respect and understanding for other cultures and traditions. With the help of Made Lasmawan, she recently acquired a Balinese gamelan orchestra for her school, and is excited about the possibilities and challenges of teaching gamelan to children. Karen stays busy by gardening, traveling the world in her kitchen, and raising two small children.
At the tender age of 16, Russ sold a pig to buy his first guitar. A Texas native transplanted to Colorado, Russ actively performs and teaches in the Denver metro area. Since earning his Master’s Degree, Russ has explored contemporary guitar music in his duo Derelict Hands with Scottish guitarist Calum Borthwick. In July 2016, Derelict Hands recorded their debut album after a tour of Scotland. In May 2017, Russ premiered his latest project with cellist Katie Burns, named Solazur, including the premiere of a large new work ‘Azur’ commissioned for the ensemble. The duo recently returned from a residency at the Zodiac Music Academy & Festival in Cote d’Azur, France. As a dynamic instructor Russ actively expands his teaching studio and currently teaches guitarists of all ages and skill levels, ranging from classical to pop music.
Benjamin Pongtep Cefkin
Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Ben has been performing traditional Thai music and dance with Colorado’s Thai community since 1999 and is a founding member of the Thai Harmony Traditional Arts Ensemble. After hearing Gamelan Tunas Mekar perform at the same festivals and local events as Thai Harmony for many years, Ben finally had the opportunity to join the gamelan in 2012 after studying with I Made Lasmawan at the University of Colorado at Boulder. A graduate of the Denver School of the Arts, Ben is currently pursuing a PhD in ethnomusicology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Ben is an avid music listener and performer of many genres, and plays various traditional Thai instruments with the Thai Language and Culture School at Wat Buddhawararam. Ben also teaches courses on popular music and is a research assistant with the American Music Research Center.
Born in Colorado, Aleanna grew up in the Tunas Mekar family. Her mom, Carolyn Oakley, has been a member of the ensemble since 1992. Aleanna began performing with Tunas Mekar in 2011 and has traveled multiple times to Bali to learn and perform Gamelan music. Aleanna is also a previous member of the Kutandara Center community and Mukana Marimba Ensemble, where she performed African Marimba.
Joe Engel holds three music degrees: cello performance (Bachelors and Masters), music theory and composition (bachelors). He has been studying cello and other music forms for over 14 years. He was introduced to gamelan in 2015 when he attended a Tunas Mekar concert at the University of Denver. At the urging of Professor Aaron Paige, he attended his first Tunas Mekar rehearsal in August of 2015 and was hooked. Joe is a music educator and performer, and, in addition to cello, has studied guitar, North and South Indian classical musics, Tuvan throatsinging, and other non-western disciplines. Joe feels privileged to be a member of Tunas Mekar, and is constantly inspired by the vibrant and explosive energy of the group.
Rhianna holds a degree in violin performance from the University of Denver. She became interested in gamelan while a student in Aaron Paige’s class and joined Gamelan Tunas Mekar shortly thereafter.
Michael Fitts, President
An innovator in the world of digital media distribution, Michael designed, sold, and deployed TouchMedia, one of the nations largest networks of digital media stations. Mr. Fitts has a proven track record as an entrepreneur in the music and technology sectors. His first success was the development of a powerful software application or the cost-effective management and tracking of music promotion campaigns. This application led to his forming INDIEgo Promotions in 1992, which went on to become a nationally recognized provider of marketing and promotions services for independent artists and labels. In 1996 he created the label Synergy Music as a progressive home for Art Lande, Paul McCandless and other internationally renowned jazz artists. Through a series of acquisitions in conjunction with industry veteran Paul Schulman he launched Synergy Distribution (SD) in 2002. Michael has been a member of Tunas Mekar since 1991, performed with the group in Bali in 1996 and has been its President since 2000.
Jill holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Performance from the University of Denver and has been performing as a professional jazz drummer for 40 years. She has been an active member of Gamelan Tunas Mekar since 1989 and has traveled to Bali multiple times to study with traditional teachers. Jill performed with Gamelan Tunas Mekar at the Bali Arts Festival in 1996 and 2019, when the group toured the island. She also studies and performs gamelan gender wayang and has a passion for gardening and garden design.
I Nyoman Tangkas Aji Guyasa
Aji was born in 2001 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Currently pursuing a degree in Exercise Science at UCCS with plans to become a physical therapist, he plays soccer and volleyball and is an old soul who speaks Chinese, Spanish, English, and Basa Bali. He was raised on gamelan (as were his brothers, Putu and Ade).
After growing up in Great Falls, MT, Jordan moved to Rochester, NY to study at the Eastman School of Music. While at Eastman, Jordan completed a Bachelors of Music in Violin Performance, a Bachelors of Music in Music Education, a Masters of Arts in Ethnomusicology, and also completed secondary studies in Vocal Performance and World Music. Jordan was fortunate to study violin with Prof. Lynn Blakeslee, voice with Dr. Louima Lilite and Professor Carol Webber, Ethnomusicology with Dr. Ellen Koskoff, and Balinese gamelan with I Nyoman Suadin.
Jordan moved to Denver, CO in 2012 to continue playing and studying Balinese music with master Balinese music teacher I Made Lasmawan. Jordan plays with Gamelan Tunas Mekar in Denver and Gamelan Chandra Wyoga in Larmie, WY. Jordan now lives in Laramie, WY, and teaches classes relating to World Music and Balinese music at the University of Wyoming. Jordan’s main job is running a business he founded that sells the chin rest for violin Jordan invented, called the Kreddle.
Chris is a percussionist, composer, social media artist and web developer. Born in Exeter, California, he quickly developed a taste for ripe oranges and avant garde jazz. After moving to Fort Collins to enroll in the prestigious Colorado State Percussion Studio, Chris found a home among several musical circles in Colorado’s Front Range. Chris has collaborated with the improvisational collective Le Secret, Gamelan Tunas Mekar, The Matt Smiley Quartet, Space Force, the Freshman Philosophy Majors, Trio Cribonis, the Nebula Ensemble, and chamber group Witches & Science. Chris’s playing and compositions are informed by the jazz tradition, bird sounds, contemporary Western art music, unsettling frequencies, and the music of Indonesia. Chris now spends his time convincing computers to do his bidding as a student of back end development at the Turing School in Denver, Colorado.
Chase joined Gamelan Tunas Mekar in October 2020 after moving to Denver from Fort Collins, CO. While earning his Music Education degree at CSU, he was an active member in the prestigious CSU Percussion Studio, where he was featured as a soloist at the 2019 Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). Chase currently raps, sings, and plays keyboard in the eccentric trio The Freshman Philosophy Majors, who have released four albums in the last calendar year. Outside of performing music, Chase is a licensed K-5 general music teacher who enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with his cat Norman.
Vie Lim (dancer)
Vie Lim is a Denver native. She began studying Balinese dance at Colorado College with her teacher, Ni Ketut Marni. While there, she performed with Gamelan Tunjung Sari. Several years after graduating in 2008, she joined Gamelan Tunas Mekar as a dancer.
Liz began studying gamelan with Pak Lasmawan in 1996 while a student at Colorado College. She holds a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA, where her research addressed the function of music tourism in the recovery and rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans and Bali after the 2002 and 2005 terrorist bombings. Her current research focuses on I Made Lasmawan, Ni Ketut Marni, and the music and dance traditions of their Balinese village, Bangah. In conjunction with Pak Lasmawan and Ibu Marni, she leads study abroad programs on the arts and culture of Bali on location in Indonesia at Sanggar Manik Galih. Liz joined Tunas Mekar in 2017 when she returned to Denver as Visiting Teaching Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Denver Lamont School of Music. Currently an Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, she teaches courses on music and culture, oversees the university’s global music ensembles, and curates the department’s visiting artist series on Music, Race, & Social Justice.
Putu Indira Sandika (dancer)
Indi graduated in 2021with a BSBA in Business Management from the University of Denver, where she is currently pursuing a Masters in Accounting. She began studying Balinese dance with Ibu Ni Ketut Marni at a young age, and is an active performer along the Front Range.
Kristina has been a gamelan community member since she began playing in 1997 with Pak Made Lasmawan at Colorado College. She spent one year with Tunas Mekar in 2000 before playing with Gamelan Encantada in Albuquerque from 2002 to 2005, Gamelan Burat Wangi in Los Angeles with Pak I Nyoman Wenten from 2008 to 2020, and Gamelan Pandan Arum in Los Angeles with Tyler Yamin from 2013 to 2016. She rejoined Tunas Mekar upon relocating home to Colorado in January 2021. Kristina is a trained counselor and works as a graduate program manager at CUBoulder. When not raising teenagers and going to gamelan rehearsal, she loves cross-country skiing, hiking, and waxing poetic about the changing seasons.
Andrea was introduced to gamelan by her dance teacher and was instantly captivated by the shimmering sounds, ornate instruments, and rich traditions. After attending a performance, she felt impelled to join Gamelan Giri Murti at Wake Forest University, led by Elizabeth Clendinning. She was a member of GGM for several years, where she gained lifelong friends and was privileged to perform with them at the Smithsonian Institution. She is new to Colorado and Gamelan Tunas Mekar and is grateful that both have accepted her. Andrea is a multi-talented plant mom and one of Odin’s muses; she can make you a stiff drink, balance your checkbook, or put a metal roof on your house.
Jake WherryJakey Wherry joined Gamelan Tunas Mekar in 2015. He currently performs with his improvisational chamber group Moon Atomizer, as well as many musicians in the Denver area. He is a good baby and everybody loves him.
Katy Wherry is a flutist whose passion for varying genres of music has provided her with opportunities to collaborate with outstanding musicians including LeVar Burton, Sir James Galway, Brook Ferguson and others. Katy has studied with distinguished flute players such as Sir James Galway, Christina Jennings and Brook Ferguson. She received a Masters degree in Flute Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2014.
Katy has performed recitals throughout the world, including tours of England and Brazil. She has experience performing with multiple symphony orchestras including the Colorado Symphony, the award winning Lamont Symphony Orchestra and the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Katy has experience performing multiple styles of music including improvisation, electronic music, Balinese Gamelan and Steel Pan. She recently premiered a piece written for Flute and Balinese Gamelan at MIT with Gamelan Galak Tika and is a featured soloist on the steel drum album “Altered Perception” by Pan Nation.
Victoria Zero (dancer)
Vicky works as an environmental consultant. She was first introduced to gamelan through The California State Summer School for the Arts as a high school student in 2000 at the California Institute of the Arts. She stumbled upon gamelan again a decade later at the University of Wyoming in 2011, when she joined Gamelan Candra Wyoga. Vicky has been playing with Gamelan Tunas Mekar in Denver since 2013. She plays multiple instruments and dances.
I Made Sumayasa
Made was born in the small central Balinese village of Batulantang, where he lived until November, 2002 when he moved to Hawai`i to join his wife. Made has played gamelan all his life and was a leader of his community gamelan group until he moved to the U.S. Made is also an accomplished artist in the traditional Balinese style and, despite his village’s isolation from the centers of art in Bali, his work is sought out by gallery owners and collectors throughout Bali. In Bali, Made is known for his unique affinity for the Barong, and, his Barong paintings are highly sought out by other Balinese. Made has shown his paintings in the 2004 Artists of Hawaii juried exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and at the Gallery On The Pali in Honolulu. Made played with Tunas Mekar in 2008-2009 when he lived in Denver with his wife and two small children. At that time, Made built and hand-painted the Candi Bentar (stage set) now used by Tunas Mekar.
Made says of his art: “I am from the island of Bali located in the Indonesian Archipelago. Art and music are very important to my culture and are used for many ceremonial purposes as well as entertainment. Our primary religion is Hindu-Bali. As Hindus, we are a minority in Indonesia, but we are very proud of our culture and religious beliefs. Take a look at some examples of what makes my island so special.”