By Elia Simantov
After I arrived in Bali at the end of 2009, I read about The East Bali Poverty Project [EBPP] and the fantastic work that David has done there, and decided to contact him regarding the possibility of doing volunteer work with them. As I have studied Music, Theatre and Film over the years, and finished my Masters Degree in arts less than two years ago, David suggested that I work with them in these areas.
My first meeting with the kids up at the Cegi School in February 2010 was fascinating. After a short introduction and the initial amusement of the children, from having another western-looking person around (especially one with a bald head…), I asked them, with the help of a local teacher who did his best at translating, who can play something for us on the guitar. One of the students picked up an old and beat-up guitar, which was heavily out of tune, and played for us a lovely song that he wrote in Balinese. After him, another student played a popular Indonesian rock song that he had learned. I complimented them on their performance, and asked them if they know how to read music. The simple answer was “no!”
With the intention of giving the students the option to learn tools that can aid them in becoming professional musicians, I began going up to Desa Ban on a regular basis in order to teach music. A considerable amount of time was given to teaching the future teachers – the individuals who in the future will be able to pass their acquired musical knowledge to younger kids in the different villages in Ban.
With the help of David and some of EBPP’s generous donors we bought a new classical guitar, tuners, and a digital synthesizer-keyboard. The excitement was high I as started to teach the new students, step by step, some fundamentals of music theory. With just a small number of lessons behind us, we have progressed from gaining a basic understanding of the structure of the keyboard, through learning simple scales and chords, to the more advanced task of analyzing the theory behind the chords that they play on the guitar.
One of the most recent developments in our music program is the friendship and cooperation that has been forged between us and the One Dollar voor Muziek fundament. As we were introduced to their work by our longtime friend and advisor Denise Abe, we suggested to Raoul Wijfells, the founder of One Dollar voor Muziek [ODFM], that we join forces in order to bring the children of Desa Ban greater opportunities to experience and learn about music. We were glad to find that Raoul shared our enthusiasm, and in just a couple of weeks the first “delegation” of young musicians came up with me to do a workshop at the Pengalusan School in Ban.
On the way up to the village I could feel the excitement that Hideki, Wira and Vendi had about going up to teach at a place like Ban. Hideki told me that this is definitely the most remote location they ever preformed a workshop at, while Wira and Vendi commented on the long and winding road that we were travelling on, going up and down on the slopes of Mount Agung. They were surprised to hear that, relatively speaking, this is a very easy access road in comparison with the difficult and bumpy mountain paths, leading to some of our schools in Ban, like the ones in the hamlets of Darmaji or Manikaji.
As we approached the hamlet of Pengalusan, a cloud of mist engulfed the surrounding area and something quite different was felt in the air, as if something completely new for this place was waiting to unfold. We all sat together in the cozy classroom and after a short introduction our trio of instructors started the workshop by performing a song for us. Everyone froze as Vendi’s warm and soulful voice spread around the school area, together with Hideki’s guitar playing and Wira’s percussion accompaniment on the cajón. As the performance progressed I began to notice that some adults and many kids from around the school area were gathering around the classroom, looking in through the windows or just standing at the doorway. This is a moment that I simply will never forget. It was then that I realized that for most of them this was the first live performance of modern music that they ever witnessed. I looked at Vendi and while he was singing I could notice that he is moved profoundly by what is happening. If a part of the workshop’s intent was to get the kids up at Pengalusan interested in music and in their own musicality, I knew then and there that it will be achieved with ease. After they finished playing the song, Hideki said a few words of introduction, and then Vendi began talking about vocal technique that may help the students improve their musical abilities. When he concluded his session, Hideki gave an important introductory lesson on the guitar. As we were driving back down from Pengalusan towards our Ban office I asked Vendi about how he felt when he saw what is happening while he was singing. He replied that he was very surprise and overwhelmed…
Needless to say that we are all very excited and filled with enthusiasm towards the new possibilities that the cooperating between us and the One Dollar voor Muziek foundation entails. It is yet another step in the East Bali Poverty Project’s program to give the children of Desa Ban new opportunities to help themselves, while getting in touch with their more artistic side, and accessing the creativity within them.