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Student dancers from Lewis and Clark Elementary raise their hands as Aji Guyasa, 15, dances dressed as the Hindu god Hanuman during a performance of Balinese music and dance for Lowell Elementary students at Mount Jumbo School in East Missoula on Friday morning.

TOMMY MARTINO, Missoulian

Mount Jumbo School was arguably the loudest it's ever been on Friday.

The east Missoula school, which is housing Lowell this school year, was treated to a performance of Balinese music and dance by their fifth-grade peers from Lewis and Clark on Friday morning. 

Lewis and Clark students have been learning the gamelan – an ensemble of Balinese instruments consisting of metallophones, gongs, drums and bamboo flute – for a decade thanks to efforts by music teacher Dorothy Morrison.

She played gamelan in college, and when she met master musician and teacher I Made Lasmawan, he suggested she try starting small with kids, using a four-note gamelan rather than the large 26- or 27-note gamelan.

"I just had that inspiration that this kind of music, these kids could really get into it and get motivated," she said. "But it became much more motivating than I ever would have imagined."

Kids look forward to Morrison's class, knowing the unique opportunity that awaits.

"It's probably the only thing they remember about me," Morrison said, laughing. "It's the first thing they say at the end of September: 'When are we going to learn gamelan?'"

For a month every year, starting in kindergarten, her students learn the gamelan with Lasmawan. For the past two years, dance has been incorporated into the lessons.

"Good morning," Lasmawan told the gym packed with Lowell students. "Selamat pagi."

"Selamat pagi," they responded, or at least they tried to.

***

The gamelan was set up on the gym floor in front of two curtains behind which the students and Lasmawan's family got ready for each set.

The performance began with seven Lewis and Clark girls dancing behind Ni Ketut Marni, Lasmawan's wife. Their subtle movements left the crowd of kids in quiet awe, and others giggling when at one point the dancers tossed flower petals toward the front row.

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Ni Ketut Marni performs with students during the opening dance. Lewis and Clark students have been learning the gamelan — an ensemble of Balinese instruments consisting of metallophones, gongs, drums and bamboo flute — for a decade thanks to efforts by music teacher Dorothy Morrison.

It's the first time Lewis and Clark has taken this show on the road; they also performed at Russell School on Friday afternoon, and some headed to the Top Hat on Friday night.

"Kids learn a lot from other cultures, and diversity," Lasmawan said after the Lowell performance. "Now we can spread this to other schools. It's good for them to know about different cultures. And the gamelan is not just music. It's everything. It's culture, it's a way of life, it's respect."

The mini-tour is the culmination of a weeklong residency with the Lasmawan family at Lewis and Clark. The most difficult thing for the students to get used to, he said, is not reading music.

"Western music has a lot of notes," he said. "But in Bali it's memorized because it's a lot of repetition."

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Lowell students share a laugh near the end of the performance. For a month every year, starting in kindergarten, Morrison's students learn the gamelan with I Made Lasmawan. For the past two years, dance has been incorporated into the lessons.

***

For the second year, Morrison landed an Artists in the Schools and Communities grant from Montana Arts Council.

Matching funds came from the PTAs of Lewis and Clark, Russell and Lowell, as well as from Spark! Arts Ignite Learning, Create Missoula, and Allegiance.

A group of boys, led by fifth-grader Zander Beck in stunning traditional dress, performed baris, the traditional war dance for men in Bali. It's the same dance Beck performed during the Vienna International Ballet Experience USA event last month.

Then things got silly, and Morrison called on Lowell students to participate in a children's game, "meong-meong." They formed a circle, twirling and singing along with the gamelan. One child was in the middle of the circle (the rat), and another was on the outside (the cat), and as the song ended they raised their arms and the cat chased the rat around the gym and through their arms.

"Cat, cat, oh cat, would you please help catch the rat?" they sang.

The show ended with the entire group, along with Lowell fifth-graders, sitting cross-legged in a circle for "kecak," or the Ramayana Monkey Chant. Lasmawan led the song and the moves, and then a white monkey, Hanuman, appeared. It was his son, I Nyoman Guyasa. Later, the evil king, Rakshasa, sneaked in, played by another of Lasmawan's sons, I Made Wigaya. Hanuman and Rakshasa depicted the battle from the Hindu epic, Ramayana, in the middle of the circle as the students sang and chanted.

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"I just had that inspiration that this kind of music, these kids could really get into it and get motivated," Morrison said. "But it became much more motivating than I ever would have imagined."

In the end, Hanuman was victorious, and the gym grew louder with cheers.

"It's an intense sense of ensemble," Morrison said. "The whole class plays at once. It's a beautiful instrument and in the group, each student has a job. And it teaches them respect and care. They know if you mistreat this instrument, it may not come back."

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