Archive for July, 2011

Holy Week!

Dear Reader,

Hello everyone, and holy week! I have been having a wonderful time attending various events and just soaking up the vibe of these auspicious days. My days have been filled with prayers, celebrations and decorations and I may need to write several installments in order to do justice to my experiences. It’s hard to describe the amount of effort put into each event, but I will do my best! This happens every 210 days (a year in the Balinese calendar)… sort of like our period of Christmas and New Years. The season has officially ended as of yesterday with “Kuningan Manis”, but I shall start with the initial celebrations on (and just before) Galungan.

I’m just going to dive in, so, here we go!

Perhaps it was the really itchy mosquito bite on the top of my foot that woke me up, but I felt unusually like I was awaiting Christmas. But let me back up even further… The night before Galungan, I attended the last arja rehearsal before the performance. Leslie has been sick for the past couple weeks (my poor girl!) and so was Lisa! so I ended up just going by myself. The difference between this rehearsal and the last was unequivocal. In fact, so much so, that it seems a mystery to me at how all this movement and dance could have been added without a lot of practice first? It is likely I am missing something and it only makes me aware of how many elements I do not know, and would like to discover. All of the things I am learning are just scratching at the surface. Patience Chelsea!!!

Another interesting dynamic to watch was the distribution of money at the end of the rehearsal, before the feast happened (food seems to be an extremely important element to all their sacred and important events!). Everyone gathered around and sat in a big group while Komang and Bu Candri talked to them (in Balinese, not Indonesian – either way I wouldn’t have known what they were saying). But the interesting part of this happened when the actual money was passed around. Everyone saw how much everyone else was paid, and did after an envelope of bills was taken and split amongst all the performers. Bundles of bills were handed out to various players and they distributed this to those surrounding them.

I saw how much they were paid and was thankful at how much (although we complain a great deal) we are supported in the arts. Even though there is not a lot of funding, we are not complete slaves and we are rewarded for the work we do – even if it is just not ideal. I won’t say here how much the pay was out of respect for (at least a bit of) their privacy, but I can say that they worked extremely hard and put together a four-hour production in under six months – both dancing and singing completely memorized… for next to nothing.

It was not only this aspect that affected me, but the fact that the money came from this one bundle. Everyone saw it, there were no secrets. It was: this is what we have, let’s share. This affects me so much and yet I can’t really pin-point what exactly it is that is so touching to me. Perhaps it will surface the more I am face to face with these admirable attitudes.

When I got back, Leslie and I went to Tut Mak and I ate too many sweet things in a streak of indulgence… feeling a bit like Christmas… When we came home, the streets were peaceful, quiet, and filled with beautiful decorations made by each family.

I suppose I should take a quick detour to tell you a bit about the preparation for Galungan. It starts weeks in advance… various food and sweets are prepared for both eating and offerings to the Gods, other non-edible offerings are made, again, from palm leaves and other natural substances. Then, amazing, long bamboo stalks are decorated  with palm leaves, flowers, and grains, crafted by each family and raised the day (or two) before to stand in front of their home, lining the street with a feeling that could possibly only be felt when before their grandiose presence. I hope some of my pictures can give you a sense of this magic.

Back to my drive home with Leslie. We decided to drive up our street a little, because with the hill and the amount of family compounds that exist in this area, the view is quite awe-inspiring. We ended up back at the bottom in front of Leslie’s home-stay talking on the street until midnight, and although it could have been partially due to the amount of sugar I have previously consumed – I couldn’t help feeling a big anticipation that I often hope to find at Christmas time.

After waking up at 5:30am, I realized it was genuinely there; (and those of you who know my usual morning habits would agree) that I was truly awoken to a magical gift of excitement again. I waited for everyone to get up, then went back to sleep for a while, then woke up again with the same curiousity, only to find that nothing much was happening still. The funny thing is, not much happened at all! It turned out to be a very relaxed and uneventful day! I’m still not sure if I was disappointed or just surprised. I was expecting a lot of commotion, a lot of music, a lot of people walking about… and yet none of the above happened. Although there was one lively aspect to the streets: Barong. Leslie’s description is my favourite so far: “the Balinese equivalent of trick-or-treating”. This is where groups of people (and now mostly children’s groups) walk around playing traditional music to accompany the animal that is acted out by two dancers underneath the costume. This “animal” is actually the Balinese equivalent of the Chinese Dragon. Although he has the body of a lion, he is a benevolent creature who protects humans against the Rangda the widowed witch. The group of musicians play while the dragon dances, and they walk around the streets, stopping in front of various houses and playing for different groups of people that happen to be around.

This happens and happened for the whole week until today. But now that we have discussed the noisy part, let’s go back to my general surprise.

In a way it is a pleasant surprise. I started thinking that our Christmas was much more busy, much more parade-like… and up until this moment, I had planned to write about how different it was from our holy holidays (or so we say, anyways). However, I realize now that our holiday is just as introverted at moments. When you wake up on Christmas Day in Canada – the streets are just as bare. Everyone is with their families. There are no parades on the street. There are no musical events. It is family time. Just like here, all the preparations take place beforehand. I suppose not having a family to celebrate it with was part of the emptiness I felt. And although I was more than welcome to join the family I was staying with, they did most of their family activities quite early in the morning. And their activities really just consist of eating, going to the temple and praying as a family. Quite quiet really. And quite nice.

Later in the afternoon, I made my way over to Bu Candri’s house so that I could catch a ride into Denpasar with their family for the Arja performance in the evening. This is a whole separate event and I think I will save it for the next entry so that I can get this one up for you to read asap! I hope you enjoy the pictures and this time, you can look forward to hearing from me soon!



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Dear Reader,

I’m back! It took me a few days to write because I have been so busy with taking lessons again, organizing information and taking lots of pictures! I started lessons again on July 1st, (Happy Canada Day!) back in Singapadu. My voice was working enough in the higher registers – “head voice” – but my “chest voice” still had a lot of difficulty because of the congestion (STILL) in my lungs. It is still slowly getting better, but slowly.

I have been taking lessons every day since then, and I think that the singing is helping me move things along, plus I am once again making good use of my time. I was driven by my experience on June 30th, when I attended a rehearsal for the upcoming Arja performance at the infamous musical family compound in Singapadu.

It was inspiring for many reasons… but mostly for the sincerity of expression, the laughter in enjoyment and the – pause –

I was trying to find the word. Sitting here at Mingle – asked Leslie what the word for the feeling you get when you watch gamelan rehearsals, because I can’t really sum it up in English. It’s sort of a pride within a group, when everyone works so closely together that they become one unit. And the two boys up here with us on the patio started discussing in Indonesian what this word might be (with their understanding of the feeling) and came up with: Many people but one heart. Exactly.

The expressions perhaps can only be felt through the photos that I took during the rehearsal. When they are angry, they are really angry, when they are sad, they really cry, when they are happy, they laugh as if they had never known a joke like it before. When they make a mistake, they laugh and try again, they have no shame (or at least make it seem that way). When there is something funny in the play, everyone laughs as if they were watching the rehearsal for the first time – because their expressions are so genuine and sincere in the moment, that in a way they really are watching the play for the first time. In between segments, we feasted on delicious traditional food and I was able to ask some of the performers questions about their characters.

I couldn’t handle just watching, it was so hard to be reminded that I hadn’t been able to sing for three weeks. I wanted to be expressing myself through voice again; I wanted to be living my passion once again! After the rehearsal I asked Bu Candri if she had 15 minutes to do a little test run with me and my voice. It was still quite unstable, but it wasn’t making me feel like choking or coughing when taking a deep breath, and it didn’t feel uncomfortable – just sounded that way! That’s when I decided I was ready to take lessons again.

The next few days in lessons have been exceptionally good, despite my unstable little voice, but it is getting bigger and more stable every time and I have had some revelations about the technique that are helping me find the right sounds to approach this genre with. It is so much fun to wiggle the voice around and now singing other stuff I am finding a different flexibility that I haven’t had before. Which to be honest, I’m not all that surprised about. It is also due to a new teacher of mine – Bu Candri’s son-in-law: Komang, who is a teacher at ICI, the big University in Denpasar. He is teaching me some other types of songs and with a bit of English, is able to explain things a bit more technically for me. Although this is true, it is also true that a bit of English can be more difficult to work with – because then you have mediocre translations that can be more confusing than just the imitation itself. Also, you spend more time trying to find words and understandings and it can be much more tiring after a couple hours.

Yesterday I had back-to-back lessons with Komang and Bu Candri and then decided to get some downtime by going to the beach in Saba with Agus and Lisa. Leslie and I had been there once before but I didn’t have the camera on me that time, so I was happy to finally take some pictures (will post more pics soon). Afterwards, we drove through some beautiful little villages (one that I could even see myself living in, it was so clean!) that were starting to fill up with decorations for Galungan: Balinese New Year (every 210 days on the Balinese calendar). It is happening tomorrow, and I am very excited to experience it! My camera will be full, I am sure, and I will have more than a lot to say.

Right now I am heading out to the final rehearsal for the Arja performance that is happening tomorrow night (which I will attend in Denpasar). So many things going on, it’s been a bit challenging to write! I will update again as soon as I can.

For now, I will leave you with some pictures that later I will need to add titles to, but unfortunately there is not enough time right now to do so… I’ll let you know when they are done. For now, enjoy the beautiful colours, the expressions and the joy that emanates.

Thanks to all of you for keeping up with my life. I always appreciate your comments and this is my way to warmly hug you all by keeping up this blog… I hope you can feel it!

Lots of love,

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