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Creating good energy in the community through music

By Jonathan Bailey

When I was a seminary student in the early 1990s, I took a course called Music and Missions. It surveyed and tried to investigate the liturgical function of music in church settings globally. 

At the time, I was serving as the music director for a first-generation West African church in Arlington, Texas. Working with the pastor’s support and vision, we had successfully assisted the church to move toward more indigenous African forms of music in worship. 

The musical style was a blending of African tradition and Western hymns – just as it was for those who’d been in churches back in Africa. Not surprisingly, the course Music and Missions assumed a Western liturgy as the starting point and then added local indigenous forms. 

After being in Bali for a while and getting to know Balinese music and Balinese religion, I began to realize the shortcomings of this approach and the Western Christian bias that remains embedded in what is a radically different context. So, in the early 2000s my focus was on a Balinese starting point and “never minding” the Western perspective at all! 

Facilitating a conversation and negotiation between Balinese Hindu and Balinese Christian creators yielded music and dance that really was culturally appropriate to the core. The test has been their acceptance in both Christian and Hindu worship settings. Aside from a later foray into gamelan-based Christmas carols for international programs in Bali, I left behind any serious consideration of adapting Western music to the Balinese setting for worship. Not that I had ever imagined truly contextual music becoming the norm in Balinese churches. The legacy of the colonial church is too strong for most anyone to accomplish that. I did, however, want to create some weight on the other end of the liturgical spectrum.  

Fast-forward to the summer of 2020 and the creative dearth of the pandemic. Greg Dover, pastor of Augusta Heights Baptist in Greenville SC, an Encourager Church, emailed me about his plan to feature folk music in his church’s online worship in late July. He asked if I had anything from Bali I’d like to submit. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t. At least not something that would be accessible to his congregation. (Imagine the response to a 20-minute Balinese dance!) 

If it had been nearer Christmas, I would have sent him our gamelan arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. But I had nothing that would work. So I decided to ease off on my principled purist approach to contextual music and have a little Balinese musical fun. 

I contacted several composers (in Canada, Greece and Turkey) who know a bit about Balinese gamelan and with whom I’d worked before and asked if they’d be interested in collaborating with my Balinese composer to create arrangements of familiar Western hymns for gamelan. They were all interested. 

So, this past quarter the Narwastu team in Bali, led by Kadek Astawa, worked with Canadian composer Chris Hull to develop an arrangement of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

It has now been rehearsed, performed and recorded in Bali and the video has been shared with several churches here in the states. It will be featured in our future Bali repertoire for the church with a plan to create several more this year. 

Aside from having something to share with supporting churches, it has had other benefits, not the least of which is that it provided some much-needed income to our Balinese musicians whose performing opportunities have disappeared during the pandemic. It also has done what music projects do: create good energy in the community.

Jonathan and Tina Bailey are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Bali, Indonesia with emphasis on spiritual expression through music, dance and visual arts both inside and outside the local Christian community. Learn more about their ministry at www.cbf.net/bailey

The CBF Offering for Global Missions makes possible the long-term presence of CBF field personnel like Jonathan. Support for the Offering extends lasting hope and loving hospitality to people living in poverty around the world. Give online today at www.cbf.net/OGM.

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