Student recounts Union’s transformative Bali mini-term

Students+attend+a+Balinese+Cremation.+Photo+courtesy+of+Rebekah+Lindsay.
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Student recounts Union’s transformative Bali mini-term

Students attend a Balinese Cremation. Photo courtesy of Rebekah Lindsay.

Students attend a Balinese Cremation. Photo courtesy of Rebekah Lindsay.

Students attend a Balinese Cremation. Photo courtesy of Rebekah Lindsay.

Students attend a Balinese Cremation. Photo courtesy of Rebekah Lindsay.

Rebekah Lindsay, Staff Writer

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This winter break, 15 students ventured into the village of Ubud, Bali to study the traditional art forms of Balinese dance and gamelan music, having chosen the mini-term for its focus on performing arts, language and spirituality. Each morning included four hours of training in the music and/or dance styles, and the afternoons consisted of classes in more specialized art forms including mask-making, singing, contemporary Balinese dance, flute and percussion.

There also were several lectures regarding the history, culture and rituals of Bali as well as language lessons in Bahasa, the official language of Indonesia.

Classes took place outdoors lead by various masters and artisans, with the occasional monkey wandering through the grounds. Spiritual life in Bali seemed to be propelled by kindness, positivity, creativity, and worship. Individuals center their life around connection to others, the earth and the gods. Shreya Srivastava ’20 noted, “My experiences in Bali brought me closer to my religion and culture but also taught me a new way of living that celebrates diversity within interdependent, unified communities.”

Balinese dance is truly beautiful in its technique. The positions are rigid in form, yet fluid in movement and transitions. The angles created with the wrists and fingers are extensive and meaningful. Balinese dancers also have precise eye movements that are unlike anything utilized by American dancers.

Students on the mini term had many chances to observe masters in the art of this dance as well as train under their care. Some of the students were invited to dance at a religious ceremony, a temple festival, a unique experience for them. The piece performed at that celestial gathering will be carried back to Union as an act at the Steinmetz dance show.

The art of gamelan is also something to behold. For example, a gamelan factory is very different than musical factories in commercialized industries. Each gamelan is carved from blessed wood, painted in red and gold, then fashioned with the metal notes similar to a xylophone. The sheets of metal are carved and shaped by individuals with perfect pitch, who check the tone with each alteration.

Nathan Gillespie ’20 is one of the musicians who had the chance to study with various musical masters in Bali. He had personal conversations and training sessions with Balinese composers, drawing extensive insight from these interactions. Gillespie writes, “Embodied, cerebral, visceral, ephemeral: music doesn’t need to be any one thing. Music simply is, and that is enough. To put this in more personal terms: there is room for my music in this world. I don’t have to create mental constructs, or play theoretical games to write effective music. As long as I’m writing music, I am sufficient.”