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Balinese music as part of ceremony

Bali: a cremation ceremony

The cremation ceremony is one of the biggest ceremonies the Balinese have and takes place every few years with one or more villages. It’s an expensive business in terms of both cost and time. The family who has lost someone, has to cough up a considerable sum of money, and they and the whole community will spend days and weeks creating beautiful artifacts out of flowers and bamboo, all as offerings to the various Hindi gods.

Balinese ceremonial procession

Over a thousand people were present at the cremation ceremony I went to, which was an exceptionally large one, and there were about 110 actual cremations. (The bodies are buried first and are then cremated at the next available ceremony which can be anything up to five years – it’s difficult for us to get our heads around this concept!) I was the only foreigner there and I was quizzed by officials to make sure I was wearing the right clothes and that I understood the importance of the event.

Balinese music as part of ceremony

Music is simply an integral part of a ceremony and it is rarely performed on its own. There are gamelan concerts but they’re only for the tourists, not the Balinese. There is no silence as we have in concert halls, and it is normal to chat and eat food. I don’t even think the Balinese would talk about ‘listening’ to music – it’s just there, part of the fabric of the ceremony.

From what I understand, up until the end of the 18th century in Europe, concerts were probably very similar in that the audience clapped and booed at will, chatted and walked around. It changed in the early 19th century and silence in concerts became more and more normal. Could we ever lose this and revert to the more relaxed way of enjoying concerts and would we like it, I wonder?


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