Me and My Guru

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Of all the talented gamelan players I was lucky to meet and play with in Bali, my most consistent musical companion was an old man named Pak Dig. I met Pak Dig a few weeks after arriving in Bali. Our communication was limited to greetings and gestures, but he took me on as a student and with no explanation, began playing one of the long meandering pieces that are used to accompany shadow-puppet plays. He played, I followed. We continued like this for almost three hours until my arms ached and my mind had turned to mud. This was our pattern for the entire year: no chit-chat, he picks the song, I play along.

Pak Dig never went to high-school, never studied music formally, and never played professionally. He is as handy with a hatchet and a hammer as he is with a drum or mallet. These days he works on projects around the family compound, exept when he is teaching or out playing for ceremonies and puppet plays. I spent my last month in Bali living in Pak Dig’s family house. Every morning I would find him sitting out in the morning sun. Once I stepped outside he offered me a banana and asked if I wanted to practice. We played every day, till my arms were sore and my mind was mush, and during that time we recorded some of the two dozen pieces I had learned over the year. Some were standards, some were obscure tunes from distant corners of the island, and some were unique pieces known only to a few old men in this one village. You can hear some of each here.
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