Famous British playwright Shakespeare started it all with his memorable lines from Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on”. And it is! Music is the food of love, the author of emotion, the stirrer of memories, the instigator of passion, the cause of sorrow, the source of joy and the balm of peace.

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When we read a great poem (when was the last time you did that?) we can be moved. When we see a great film, we can be stirred. But when a song “hits the spot” we are putty, we crumble, we melt, we cry, we sit in rapture, we are captivated as with no other sense. It is amazing the power that music has over our emotions.

The most popular artists of every era have been famous, rich and ultimately revered: from Beethoven and Bach to the Beatles and Adele, every day there are new faces, new kids on the block making millions happy, sad or crazy, and making millions doing so!

Here in Bali the sound of gamelan is rich, clever, syncopated and has to be endlessly practiced. There are many different types of gamelan too though to the visitor they may seem quite similar. But there are no rich, adulated, musicians playing these traditional instruments yet they are equally as achieved as the K-Pop kids, perhaps more so.

One of the great sadnesses of the modern era is that the traditional arts: dance, poetry, music, even painting is left behind in the scramble for instant, digital gratification. And it is in traditional, live music that the power of transformation still lies. So put down your phone, turn off those sound cancelling headphones that everyone thinks are so cool, spend some time to listen to real live village music and you will be amazed.

It’s dazzling stuff.

Alistair G. Speirs, OBE

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Life on the Island

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