Holy Cross Students Experience the Vibrant Culture of Bali Through Music and Dance

Students directed by world-renowned gamelan composer I Nyoman Windha

I Nyoman Winda, visiting fellow in Balinese music at Holy Cross, wants you to visit Bali.

The composer/musician probably doesn't need to do a lot of convincing to get you to the popular Indonesian island, but in order to seal the deal he's extending an invitation to an evening of Balinese music and dance at Holy Cross that he and his wife, I Gusti Agung Ayu Warsiki, have conducted and choreographed.

The Holy Cross departments of music and theatre will present the famed Balinese gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Gita Sari, which will feature student performers and guest artists, on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. in Brooks Concert Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Children are welcome.

Unique Arts Offering

Introducing students to Balinese music and dance has been a highlight of the arts at Holy Cross since 1999, following the creation of Gamelan Gita Sari. "Gita Sari" means "the essence of song" in Bahasa Indonesian, the native language of the country. For more than 15 years, through courses in gamlelan and dance, scores of students have experienced the rich traditions of Balinese culture. Some of the world's foremost Balinese musicians and dancers have taught and performed at the College. Holy Cross is one of just a handful of colleges in the country that has a Balinese gamelan orchestra.

Students have been working with Windha, this year's visiting fellow in Balinese music, and his wife, visiting lecturer Warsiki, all semester. The Indonesian natives, who are at the College as part of a yearlong stay, have been teaching students how to play gamelan music on the College's own Gong Kebyar gamelan. The instrument was built in Indonesia by master Balinese craftsman Pande Made Sukerta in 1998 especially for Holy Cross.

Windha is one of Bali's premier composers and is widely-known for creating works that are admired for their melodic and formal beauty. He has taught music at Institut Seni Indonesia (the National Institute of the Arts) in Bali since 1982 and has participated in numerous international tours and festivals.

Since 1983, he has created more than 70 original compositions, all of which have been performed by groups in Indonesia, the U.S. and Europe. Warsiki, a dance teacher in Indonesia, has accompanied her husband to the U.S. before. The couple taught the Gamelan Sekar Jaya in the San Francisco Bay area for five years. The group is a 60-member company of musicians and dancers that specializes in the performing arts of Bali.

An Experiential Classroom Experience

Windha provides no musical notation to the students, a different approach than what they are used to. According to Windha it is best for the gamelan musicians to “learn the music by listening, memorizing, practicing, and most importantly repetition.” Windha explains, “Approximately 20 students are playing various instruments in the ensemble at the same time; they have to work together as a team to create the signature melodies of the Gamelan music.” Another component of learning the gamelan says Windha is “feeling the music.” He wants students to leave the classroom humming the melodies and rhythms, and directs students to YouTube to continue memorizing the pieces.

Siobahn Fennell ’18 appreciates that the College offers such a unique opportunity to learn the art of a different culture, and to take a class atypical of her major.

“I am a biology major, neuroscience minor, and I love being able to branch out from the sciences and take a class in the performing arts. It certainly makes me appreciate the art form of gamelan music and dance,” she says.

Warsiki, who's focus is on teaching Balinese dance, hopes students connect with the rhythms presented in the music. Balinese dance is “all about expression,” she says. Adding to the drama of gamelan music and dance are the ornate and intricate costumes that project the vibrancy of Balinese culture. Students wear costumes, that include hand woven fabrics stamped with gold plate, headdresses from gold covered stamped leather and metal and a variety of ornate properties.

“I was a competitive dancer who studied jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, modern, hip-hop, etc. Learning the dance of Bali, however, is something I have never done before. It has been quite an exceptional experience to immerse myself in a different culture and to learn this unique dance style,” says Cassidy Mackintire ’18, an economics and accounting major at the College. “I am used to quickly picking up choreography; the initial steps were not too hard for me to master. The movement, however, is extremely detailed, so it was a challenge to learn each hand isolation, eye movement, and specific body position. Overall, learning this new style has been a rewarding experience for my dance vocabulary. My repertoire has now been cross-culturally enriched.”

Enriching Experience in the Liberal Arts Tradition

Lynn Kremer, Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., Chair in the Humanities, professor of theatre and director of the Arts Transcending Borders initiative, who was instrumental in the program's inception at the College, says there is uncommon value that this program provides students.

“The extraordinary musical and dance richness of the Hindu tradition is a perfect fit for a liberal arts college,” she says. “Both music and dance are intense; both are challenging to learn; both bring benefits to a number of departments at the College.”

Gamelan Gita Sari straddles the line between theatre and dance, and allows students to see how the arts are more often complementary than mutually exclusive.

“For the Department of Theatre, dance brings physical control and specificity, enabling our actors to add details to their characters — even in a play of American naturalism,” Kremer says. “For the Department of Music, musicians master the complexities of interlocking rhythmic patterns while memorizing compositions and improvising with dancers.”

Brian Sullivan ’16 enjoyed learning gamelan so much last year he is taking another class this year. He is challenging himself with a new role within the ensemble by playing the gong. He says the learning curve has been steep, but after two months of playing the instrument he finds the experience “rewarding.” An economics and accounting major, he says that last year when taking the class he was also taking a course in ancient and medieval Hinduism. “It is not often in a history course that a professor would speak about a unique component of culture, that you the student have first-hand experience of.”

The Gamelan Gita Sari concerts were an instant hit when introduced to Holy Cross, says Kremer. “This year, under the direction of one of Bali’s most well-known composers and his extraordinarily talented dancer wife, the tradition is certain to continue.”

And, with any luck, convince a few audience members to visit Bali.

For more information about the concert and Gamelan Gita Sari, contact Joan Townsend at 508-793-3490.

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