The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Music for tolerance     

Her age is right, she’s keen and all is ready.  But this union can only be consummated by lovers of gamelan.
Last night (Sat 6 July) the 18th annual International Gamelan Festival opened in Yogya at the Plaza Ngasem with performers from Banyuwangi, Yogyakarta, the US and Singapore.
Today (Sun 7 July) the largest overseas contingent of 25 players from New Zealand, and three other groups from Yogyakarta, will hit the gongs and strike the metalophones.   It is the first time that Plaza Ngasem, the refurbished traditional bird market with a 300-person capacity, has been used for public events.

A Practise for perfection: From left (in jilbab) Sekar Setyaningrum, Desyana Wulani Putri and Sari Utami Haryaningtyas.

“The theme this year is ‘ready and has to be married’,” said architect and organizer Sari Utami Haryaningtyas.  She has been involved with the festival for the past 12 years. 
“I’m glad that other countries enjoy our music – I just wish more young Indonesians shared our love of the gamelan instead of Western pop. Globalization has changed the mindset of Indonesians.
“Although Yogya is the heart of Javanese culture many students come here from across the country and don’t know or understand the gamelan.
“I fell in love with it when I was a child and learned how to play at school. We used to hear gamelan on the radio all the time – now it’s rare and it’s Lady Gaga on the airwaves.”
Her fellow volunteer, musician and dancer Desyana Wulani Putri, is the daughter of the late Sapto Raharjo, the famous Javanese musician who founded the festival.
“My father used to say that the spirit of the gamelan is not an object, but unity,” she said.
“The instruments are just the medium. What we do and make together is important. The development of art and culture can be done through the marriage of forms and ideas.  This festival is helping to maintain my father’s vision.”
Academic researcher Sekar Setyaningrum, who has been helping with the festival for 13 years, said gamelan players had to listen to each other and work as a team. 
“There are no individual stars and no director,” she said.  “We have to be tolerant.  Everyone is equal. The spirit of the gamelan should be in our daily lives, in our blood and as a nation.
“I’m not worried about foreigners stealing our music.  It can’t be separated from Indonesian culture and that’s not easily understood.” Traditionally a gamelan orchestra had at least 42 players.  However the costs involved have forced groups to slim down.
There are now gamelans active in at least 35 countries overseas.  Some, like the NZ School of Music’s two groups, Balinese and Javanese, are supported by universities and Indonesian embassies keen to promote indigenous culture.
Budi S Putra, director of the NZ Gamelan Padhang Moncar, has been in NZ 16 years.  He said this was the fourth time Kiwis had performed in Indonesia.  He rejected the idea that foreigners playing gamelan in Java was like taking apple pie to Americans.
“I always tell audiences that we come here because we love the culture,” he said.  “But I also tell them not to ignore their own music, but to keep it alive.”
NZ ethnomusicologist Professor Jack Body, who studied in Yogya as a young man, said the gamelan was being played it at least 35 countries overseas with hundreds of orchestras in the US alone.
“No self-respecting campus would be without a gamelan,” he said.  “Pak Sapto helped make it international because he was such a good networker.”
Musicians from Malaysia, the Netherlands, Japan, France, Australia and the UK have attended past festivals but the economic crisis in Europe and the proximity to the fasting month of Ramadhan had restricted travel.
Another factor has been the wealth of other cultural activities underway in Yogya this month, particularly the opening of the Maritime Culture arts exhibition last night (Sat 6 July) that is attracting buyers and critics from abroad.
Gamelan performances in Yogya tonight (Sun) start at 7.30 pm and entry is free.  “We don’t want sponsors telling us what to do,” said Sari.  “This is a community event with new works being performed.”
The NZ gamelan will go on to perform in Solo between July 10 and 14 (including a street show) and then to Malang and Bali.

First published in The Sunday Post 7 July 2013

No comments: