The Indonesian Performing Arts and Public Life Symposium kicked off with the Indonesian Puppetry Lecture Demonstration last night, April 25, in the World Music Hall. The symposium is a three-day event from Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27 and is part of a University program called “Music and Public Life,” a year-long campus- and community-wide celebration of music and related artwork and performances.
Last night’s lecture was led by Wesleyan’s Professor of Music Sumarsam and Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of California Santa Cruz and Institute of Sacred Music Fellow at Yale University Kathy Foley. The lecture focused on Sundanese three-dimensional rod-puppet plays, called wayang golek, and Javanese two-dimensional shadow-puppet plays, called wayang kulit.
Sumarsam and Foley discussed the characters in the plays, the manipulation of the puppets, and the relationship between the wayang movements and gamelan music, a combination of bronze gongs, xylophones, drums, and string instruments. The demonstration was then followed with a performance from the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble, directed by Artist in Residence I.M. Harjito.
When the University proposed the idea for Music and Public Life, Sumarsam was the first to suggest that Indonesian gamelan and wayang be incorporated into the program.
“One might think that Indonesian performing art is not known widely by the American public, but puppet show, and dance from Sunda (West Java) and Central Java appeared in the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago—so, at least the presence of wayang and gamelan in this country has a rather long history,” Sumarsam wrote in an email to The Argus.
Through the symposium, Sumarsam hopes to spread knowledge of gamalan and wayang performance in the University and Middletown community.
“I hope that Wesleyan students and public at large will learn more about gamelan/wayang as an intercultural/transnational object,” he wrote.
Zach Attas ’13, a member of the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble, said that he and the other members meet every Monday and Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m. for rehearsal. The Ensemble is made up of mainly undergraduate students and ethnomusicology graduate students, as well as a few other non-affiliated members who are experts or long-time gamelan players.
“We come in, take off our shoes, and get assigned an instrument, [a] melody or structural instrument,” Attas said. “We don’t really rehearse parts before playing—you get assigned a part and then we just go at it, which is really fun. Some instruments are inherently more difficult.”
Haikal Ramadhan ’16, another member of the ensemble, expressed excitement to finally broaden the focus of Wesleyan’s Music Department.
“Although Wesleyan has served as some sort of hub for Indonesian performing arts in the region, and it attracts quite a number of students studying Indonesian ethnomusicology, Wesleyan’s focus has always been on Balinese and Javanese arts,” Ramadhan wrote in an email to The Argus.
Ramadhan explained that, even in Indonesia, there is not a lot of effort to teach and learn the Sundanese arts and that what sets Wesleyan apart from other universities are the opportunities it offers students to learn about such unique cultural experiences, like those of the Sundanese.
“It is very refreshing to see this initiative to introduce the cultural heritage of Sundanese people…Foreigners learning about Indonesian arts and culture are vital to the efforts of preserving our long tradition.” Ramadhan wrote.
Both Ramadhan and Attas are particularly excited about Foley’s role in the symposium.
“She is very bright and dedicated to her craft,” Attas explained. “She came to one of our rehearsals and knew a Sundanese gamelan piece in her head and taught it to us.”
Madeline Holland ’13, who is currently finishing her senior project on Javanese gamelan and a six-semester member of the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble, said she is eager and optimistic about the impact that the symposium might have on the community.
“My main hope is that this demonstration of Indonesian performing arts will spark at least one person’s interest in the way it has sparked mine,” Holland wrote in an email to The Argus.
When asked what his advice was to the audience of the symposium, Attas had no hesitation.
“Draw knowledge from the gamelan into everything that you do musically at Wesleyan,” he said. “It’s a very beautiful, meditative, structural, deep-in-history instrument.”
The symposium continues Friday, April 26 at 4 p.m. in World Music Hall with another lecture by Foley and Sumarsam. Afterward, at 8 p.m., Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at Yale University Sarah Weiss and Wesleyan Professor of Theater Ronald Jenkins will present their talk on past and present hybridity in wayang and gamelan. On Saturday at 8 p.m., the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble will present their Sundanese & Javanese Puppet Plays.
All events are free, with the exception of the Puppet Plays, which are $2 for Wesleyan students and $3 for the general public.