A few days ago I (Matt) went back to the Balinese community a few hours away to attend a gamelan rehearsal as well as learn a little more about the community and their needs. It is utterly fascinating to study what they’re doing there, and to see such a rich artistic and cultural heritage still alive and well! Sometime in the next few months, we plan to help this community by hosting a songwriting workshop to first discuss the theological basis for using local arts in church, and then encourage them to write some new songs using their language and music instead of old translated Western hymns.
About Western hymns – starting all the way back with the Dutch when Indonesia was still a colony, Western church and cultural influences came along for the ride. The majority of the songs in the hymnbook here are German, Dutch, or English in origin, although there are some newer Indonesian hymns (written in a western-music style). Because this has been church culture here for over a hundred years, it has become a normal part of Christian life so we’re not going to go around forcing people to change what they do in church – that’s just another form of imperialism! What we do want to do is encourage them to bring their own language, culture, and arts into the church as well. Many people groups here have a split in their lives – what you do inside church and what you do outside of church. We want to help them incorporate these two halves into one using their arts and language.
I could go off on a tangent about the theology of this and the reason I believe it’s so important, but that might be the topic of a different blog post some other day. For now, suffice it to say that if you believe that your language, culture and arts can’t be used in church, what does that say about who you are, your cultural identity, and your value to God? On the flip side, if you are welcome to worship in your heart language and heart music/arts, what message does that communicate?
Here are some videos to enjoy. This first video is the tuning of this particular gamelan. Although there are 10 keys played, it is a 5-tone (pentatonic) scale. My personal opinion is that this scale, in solfege, is la ti do mi fa, or 6 7 1 3 4 but they call it re mi so la do or 2 3 5 6 1. So far, I’m not totally convinced of which is the more accurate representation of their scale, but here’s a video clip. For you music nerds out there, maybe you can help:
This second clip is usually accompanied by a dance, but since this was just a music rehearsal there wasn’t a dancer present. Although it isn’t normal to play the music without the dancing, they decided to do it for me anyways:
This third clip is a bit of a contest. It’s a hymn that I’m sure all of you Americans (and probably most other English-speakers) know, but the Balinese church has adapted it for the gamelan so it sounds just a little bit different. Feel free to guess what hymn they are using in the comments below! The first to guess correctly gets a prize…I have no idea what, but I’m sure I can come up with something! (Again, my preference is always to help communities develop new music for worship that is in their language and musical style, but these kind of adaptations are common here and this is one they have been using for quite a while.)
Keep in mind that all of these videos are from a rehearsal, so these are not polished performances. All video has been obtained with informed consent, and is available to you here to give you a taste of the fun things we get to learn about. Hope you enjoy!