Wau Bulan

An authentic cultural experience and an uplifting performance
GDS students’ voices soared like Malaysian Wau Bulan (moon kites) through the vaulted nave of Washington National Cathedral as they performed to a packed house during the Independent School Treble Choral Festival.

It was a performance to remember—a performance, one could say, that was 14 years in the making. (You will find a link to the performance video at the end of this story.)

When Georgetown Day School Lower/Middle School choral teacher Keith Hudspeth met Laura Petersen, his counterpart at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, while taking their level one Orff Certification in 2005, they began a fruitful collaboration that has culminated in what Keith described as “a personal highlight of my teaching career.”

This week, students in 4th through 6th grades from GDS joined into a massed 100+ chorus with students from St. Patrick’s. When introducing the piece during the evening performance, GDS 6th grader Bijan said, “After learning ‘Wau Bulan’ at their National Music Conference in November, [Keith and Laura] knew they had to work together on this unique piece.”

Earlier that day, GDS was honored to play host to representatives of the Embassy of Malaysia. Keith had contacted the embassy as part of his intentional efforts to ensure authentic cultural representations and extend learning experiences beyond a single song. Deputy chief of mission Ms. Murni Abdul Hamid and first secretary at the embassy Ms. Madonna John enthusiastically provided students with a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of this national symbol. They presented some basic geography, language, and cultural traditions before speaking in detail about Malaysian kite competitions. Steering kites above the bright green rice paddies of the Malaysian islands, competitors are judged on the artistic qualities of their colorful kites as well as how the kites perform in the air. Notably, it is said that a good kite produces a forceful humming sound during the launch of its bamboo frame.

As the piece began in the cathedral, students sent their own forceful humming sound over the audience, representative of a good kite launching. The bright timbre of a kompang, a traditional Malay drum on loan from the embassy, joined into the clapping and harmonizing of the children on the risers. To the delight of the audience—just half a minute into the piece—the 100+ students slowly settled into seated positions on the risers and floor, in the cross-legged tradition of the folk song.

In rising crescendos and with arms swooping in a seated dance, the students transported us beyond the cold hall. Watching and listening to the bright, colorful individuality of the GDS students amidst the green field of the St. Patrick’s children—like so many wau dancing above the waving green grasses of a Malaysian rice paddy—we were truly moved.

Congratulations to Keith, Laura, and all the students for their beautiful performance. Thanks also to the representatives of the Embassy of Malaysia for their partnership and for attending the performance. Finally, to the many parents, teachers, and GDS leadership in attendance—wow! Or perhaps we should say, “Wau!”

"Wau Bulan" was arranged by Tracy Wong
The GDS students also performed a “Sound of Music Medley” arranged by our own Keith Hudspeth.

Staff writer Danny Stock tells the stories of teaching, learning, competing, creating, and performing at Georgetown Day School. He is a former GDS second grade teacher and current parent.


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Georgetown Day School is a coed, preK-12, non-sectarian private school in Washington, DC with small class sizes and a diverse school community. Our comprehensive, innovative curriculum includes hands-on learning, honors and AP classes, as well as advanced-level math and STEM courses. An education is not just college prep and SAT scores. GDS teachers focus on providing the best education for each child, from elementary grades through high school. The school performing arts program includes theater, dance, and music. The athletics program offers competitive sports for student athletes, including cross-country, track, soccer, lacrosse, and crew/rowing. With our strong commitment to financial aid, an independent school tuition is affordable.