top of page

How the Balinese approach performance

I am currently writing this blog from Ubud, Bali, where I have been for the last three weeks. I made a very sudden decision in mid-November to take off to this extraordinary island in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago with its unique, colourful and formalised culture. It is a place I have been to many times and which feels like home in a strange sort of way. It’s certainly somewhere I can completely switch off and recharge my batteries.

Balinese woman

How the Balinese approach performance I don’t have any specialised knowledge of Balinese music, but I am fascinated by their approach to performance. From what I have seen, there is not a hint of performance stress of any sort. The men (yes, it’s generally just the men) who play gamelan might practice once or twice a week with their community ensemble, but they don’t appear to practice on their own. Their performances are always connected to their religious ceremonies, although they do also give concerts for tourists. Whether they rehearse or play in a ceremony, it’s always the same: they play, have a break, take out their cigarettes, check their phone and have a laugh with their mates. Children run around, the women chat and the priest chants with the accompaniment of bells. There isn’t any sense of being watched, being centre of attention or being judged – it’s just what they do. When I mentioned the word performance anxiety (with the help of Google translate) to a Balinese man, he simply laughed. I realised he hadn’t a clue what it actually meant. They just don’t appear to have it.

Balinese gamelan

Our culture is so incredibly different so is there anything that we can learn from this? We perform with all eyes looking at us, silence is expected in our concerts and we often feel judged. All of this brings considerable pressure with it. Perhaps we can find some way of bringing in the ease and normality that the Balinese have with their performing into our much more pressurised experiences. Perhaps our equivalent is to imagine that we are making music in our own living room, which just happens to be a bigger venue with more people listening. If we can do this, I’m sure that not only will it make it easier for us as performers, but also the performance we give is likely to be freer and more enjoyable for the audience too.

An interview on performance issues

A year ago, I was interviewed by Veronika Klírová, who as well as being principal second flute in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, runs a Facebook group called Wellbeing for Musicians. Her podcast of the interview has just gone live and is available to listen to on two different platforms: Spotify and You Tube.


bottom of page