Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

"Good Legong Dancers Were Given an Arduous Program of Training:" Music Education in Bali in the 1930s

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

"Good Legong Dancers Were Given an Arduous Program of Training:" Music Education in Bali in the 1930s

Article excerpt


In the 1930s, the Indonesian island of Bali was perceived as an exotic paradise for tourists and a research site for anthropologists, artists, and musicians. (1) Musical activity was one of the major topics these researchers studied and wrote about, and one of the aspects of musical life in Bali that occupied them was the teaching of music and dance. Even though few of these researchers were trained as musicians or music educators, their writings provide a picture of how music and dance were taught in that time and place. The following discussion collates and interprets comments of a number of researchers on the teaching of music and dance in Bali in the 1930s and compares that situation with current practices. While the teaching methods used in 1930s Bali are quite similar to those used now, changes in the contexts of learning have taken place.

This study uses the accepted method of locating and coding references to the teaching of music and dance in texts written by researchers of the time. These texts cover anthropology, music, sociology, and travel writing; often references to music, dance, and to teaching of them are almost incidental. To present these writers' descriptions, it has been necessary to work from quotes. Quotes are provided in full so that readers can see the original information and also experience the style and scope of anthropological thinking of the 1930s. This provides an integral historical insight and foregrounds the original sources that have been used.

The writers quoted in this article are American anthropologists Jane Belo and Margaret Mead, English anthropologist Gregory Bateson (married to Mead at the time), English dance writer Beryl de Zoete, German artist Walter Spies, Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, and Canadian composer Colin McPhee (Belo's husband). While these authors were all researching in the 1930s, many of their writings did not appear until some decades later. This, and various reissued editions of their work, explains the later publication dates cited.

In 1930s Bali, schooling was rudimentary and attendance was voluntary. But teaching and learning music and dance were important aspects of people's lives. Because of these factors, music education in this article is defined as activities through which Balinese people of the 1930s learned to dance or play a musical instrument. Transmission of Balinese music and dance was at that time (and largely remains today) a matter of oral/aural tradition, rote learning, and imitation of models provided by experts. This style of music education has its own characteristics which can be listed, analyzed, and compared with those used in Bali today. In the historical literature of non-Western music, such a body of information on how music and dance were taught and learned in a specific decade is rare. Most writers provide information on scales, rhythmic practices, and musical structures rather than ways in which music was passed from one person to another.(2)

But writers talking about Bali did describe how music and dance were taught and learned. That they did so indicates that teaching and learning of music and dance were widespread, regular, and common occurrences; that teachers were identified and recognised for their work; that for anthropologists, the teaching of music and dance was a part of everyday Balinese life that contributed to the picture these anthropologists were keen to relay to their readers in the educated Western world; that like so many aspects of Balinese life, this activity was carried out in public, readily noticed and observable; that learning to play an instrument or to dance was valued; that the teaching and learning of music and dance could be used to exemplify aspects of Balinese day to day life, especially village social structures and their expectations and gender roles; and that identifiable characteristics of the undertaking could be observed and described which constituted an unwritten, but time honored, system for training performers. …

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