As I stated in my last article, many kids in Bali these days learn traditional music simply because their parents want them to. Yes, pushy parents are not a monopoly of America or China – they in fact exist in Indonesia too. The motivation is slightly different though – the parents who actively coerce their kids to learn traditional music through the motivation of competitions, prize money and so forth are genuinely concerned that the younger generation will be more interested in Western music traditions rather than that Balinese gamelan music. The government knows the competitions can motivate families to take part and compete with each other, so that is one of the ways that they bait Balinese to learn traditional music.
These competitions attract kids of all ages, with the youngest starting around six years old. Over recent years, females have dominated the gender wayang competitions – in fact, I think it’s fair to say that these days there are more young female than male players in Bali.
Our sons have been playing gamelan here in Bali since they were less than two, with our eldest composing for the gamelan selonding ensemble when he was just six. We don’t enter them in competitions; however, as we hope that by surrounding them with instruments and playing them together with both our nuclear and our extended family their creativity will come naturally: enjoying the music for the music rather than just to satisfy their parents. I’ve noticed that naturally they sing gamelan music as they do other activities, and even beat-box the different ensemble parts when we are going somewhere in the car.
At schools, gamelan is normally introduced at elementary level when the kids are around six or seven. Western music by contrast is introduced in the form of melodicas at kindergarten level. This gap in indigenous music education has inspired me to create light, portable, virtually indestructible, iron-keyed gamelan instruments tuned to a Balinese scale to introduce indigenous music to kindergarten and even playgroup students. I hope that schools will consider to incorporate these instruments into their performing arts curriculum soon and that the government will support my idea. This will also mean that kids are introduced to all different types of Balinese gamelan ensembles, not just the ones competed for, and encourage a natural interest in the art-forms and appreciation of the value of indigenous Balinese music from early on in life.
Check out Mekar Bhuana’s range of entry level “practice” instruments on http://www.mekarbhuana.com/balinese-gamelan/balinese-gamelan-instruments/Practice-Instruments