Bali Barong Tours - Home

Click for larger view.If you're looking for a true Balinese cultural experience - something that's entirely off the radar for the vast majority of visitors to Bali - there's nothing more authentic, fun and memorable than visiting the small mountain village where, after a short demonstration and lesson, you'll have an opportunity to play along with the local gamelan orchestra.

I was lucky enough to connect up with the orchestra through a Balinese friend who comes from the village. There's a delightful story that explains how the orchestra came to be.

One day someone in the village discovered an old gamelan instrument. (Gamelan is made up of a variety of percussion instruments; cymbals, gongs and a sort of xylophone that's played with small hammers.) No one in the village - not even the oldest resident (who was in his 80s) - could remember the instrument ever being played, or even how it got there.

The instrument was in need of repair, but funds were short. Eventually, the villagers were able to put together enough money to have the instrument repaired. They even saved enough to purchase additional instruments and pay for a few lessons. Lessons were necessary because no one in the village knew how to play gamelan. An orchestra was born. And, as more villagers became interested in learning, it grew in size.

When I learned about the orchestra, I began sending people to visit them. Included in the price of a trip to the village, is a donation for the orchestra. Thanks to these donations, the villagers continue to take lessons, add to their collection, and replace instruments that are in bad repair. Donations directly benefit the orchestra. They aren't used for anything else.

The orchestra is made up of farmers who work in the fields during the day and practice gamelan in the evenings. Though gamelan is traditionally played by men, there's been talk of starting a women's orchestra.

When you play with the orchestra, other villagers will turn out for the occasion. Children run around and try to get a peek at you. The small ones might climb up on the players' laps. Perhaps some of the village women will decide to dance.

While the men who play in the orchestra enjoy a great sense of accomplishment, the village women are pleased about another result; the men used to spend their evenings gambling. Now they spend their evenings practicing gamelan.

Diane Embree
June 5th, 2005

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