Audience participation is not really my thing. So it was that when a strange musical instrument was thrust into my hand on a beach in Indonesia last week I slunk to the back of the crowd and tried to resist efforts to join the crowd…at least for a short time.
The occasion was the evening of the annual Australian Society of Travel Writers‘ Travel Journalism Awards for Excellence, and the instrument in question was an angklung, an Indonesian musical instrument made of bamboo.
This year’s annual travel writers’ conference and awards night were held at the lovely Novotel Lombok, on the white sands of Putri Nyale Beach on the southern shores of Lombok. The dress code was loosely “black tie” but the beach setting left this open to interpretation – and it was good to feel the sand between our toes!
Novotel Lombok’s genial and generous general manager Brian Townsend and his smiling staff went all-out to ensure a fabulous night (and long weekend) for all. And the angklung “orchestra” was a stroke of genius.
After dinner, each person was handed one, and soon most of us were on our feet in front of the stage while a man in a satin shirt the colour of the sea attempted to teach 80-odd over-excited travel writers and PR professionals how to play them.
The angklung is made of two bamboo tubes suspended in a bamboo frame, bound with rattan cords. The tubes are carefully cut to produce certain notes when the bamboo frame is shaken or tapped. Each angklung produces a single note or chord, so they need to be played together to produce the music.
I was in group 5, playing angklungs in G. In turns, we tapped the ends of the bamboo base and together we made music…um…sort of. There was a lot of laughter and singing as well, and I’m not sure the end result was quite what our instructor had hoped for. But it was a lot of fun.
The angklungs, it turned out, were for us to take home as a souvenir. And as we packed after a too-short three day-stay in this idyllic spot, some found the angklung was too long to fit in their bag. It was a dilemma: not wanting to offend our hosts by leaving it behind, but also not wanting to have to hand-carry the angklung while travelling for another four or five days to another part of Indonesia, and then on the plane home to Australia. (I was lucky, mine fitted snugly in my suitcase and made it home intact).
My friend Kris decided to hand-carry hers – at least until she found it too irksome – then, she thought, perhaps there would be someone along the way she could give it to. But a funny thing happened at the airport. Kris’ angklung drew a lot of attention from Indonesian travellers, who smiled and nodded their approval, stopped her and started conversations about the angklung. For Kris, it was a turning point – the angklung would not be abandoned. Its value was made clear; it was part of Indonesia’s living culture and heritage, not just a souvenir.
It was a lesson for all of us, and the angklung – for me, anyway – will always be a reminder of a wonderful visit to Lombok. I may not play it again, but I’ll certainly look at it hanging on my wall and remember that night of fun on the beach.