A Brief Musical Introduction To SDK Mangunan


As I walked down the narrow, uneven street towards SDK Mangunan, I caught the eye of three young children. Two girls shook my hand and brought it to their foreheads; the third child, a small boy in an orange shirt, repeated the ritual but continued to hold my hand with authority. “I’m looking for Pak Ndaru,” I told him in Bahasa. He cheerfully guided me to the school to a set of stairs, took off his shoes and waited for me to slip mine off. We ascended to a second-floor classroom that felt more like a tree-house. Children were chatting and gathered around one with a guitar. I asked the little boy if his music teacher was coming, and he answered he had not arrived yet. He patiently looked at me like a good host wanting to help. It was an almost unexplainable feeling, this boy, probably six or seven, guiding me as though he was my very wise guru and porter through the school. I anticipate the children of SDK Mangunan reprising similar interactions that will inform me of their youth culture.

This was my third experience with SDK Mangunan, an experimental, public elementary school (grades one through six) in Yogyakarta. The school boasts an appreciation for the creative rights of children, providing them with music and theater classes, but not uniforms. My very helpful informant, Pak Ndaru, the music teacher, explained that the school does not require uniforms. The faculty does not wish to create a divide between teacher and student, elder and younger, but rather create a family-like atmosphere where children are free to dress as they please and express themselves in a way that inspires confidence and collaboration.

I was instructed to arrive at the school on Saturday at the beginning of February, after I had asked to observe music classes. When I reached the campus at 7:30 AM, small buses were filled with children holding brightly colored flowers, and teachers and staff were waiting in the courtyard with a few students. We piled into cars, and Pak Ndaru explained we were going to a cemetery in another part of the city. Once a year, the entire student body goes to the gravesite of Pak Mangun, the founder of SDK Mangunan, who was a monk. Upon arrival at the seminary, everyone gathered around and underneath a canopied patio next to the small cemetery. There was no order, as the children ran around, chatted amongst each other, ate, or yelled across the yard.

After a few minutes of disorder, the group was wrangled up by singing a song with all the children and teachers on the patio. One teacher explained to me they pray through singing. With a large speaker in the corner and everyone ringed around the center, each grade put on a small musical performance. I did not understand the entirety of the songs sung as they were in Bahasa, but I heard the school’s name a few times and concluded each song was about Mangunan. The children happily performed simple choreography (slow conga lines, small hand gestures, tapping feet), while a few stood out: one class had two girls in lovely pink princess dresses perform a simple traditional dance with tambourines, and one boy broke out into a short break dance at the end of his class’s song. A few teachers joined their classes, including one in the conga line, and the first grade teacher strummed chords on the floor as her students sang. Throughout the performances, the audience laughed, clapped, quietly spoke amongst each other (normal in performance settings in Java, as I have so far noticed), and basked in the joy of the occasion.

After all of the classes performed and had a snack of fried spring rolls, each grade one by one gathered around the grave of Mangun. The stone was smothered in flower petals, bouquets, and a bamboo crucifix. Going around in a circle, each child said a short prayer; if I understood correctly, one teacher explained what Muslim, Christian, or Catholic children should do, in case there was confusion. After each child quickly mumbled a prayer, the group sang, a few students would cross themselves, and they were free to roam about in the mid-morning sun. We piled back into cars and busses and departed before noon.

This school is where I am working to establish an after-school music program. With Pak Ndaru’s help, I will twice a week work with two different groups of students to discuss, play, and write music. Additionally, I have started to observe their regularly scheduled music classes on Saturday (school is six days per week but students are released at noon every day). Additionally, I have offered to help the English teacher so that the students may practice their language skills with a native speaker. Due to immigration restrictions, I am not permitted to teach in any form; I have clearly stated this repeatedly to the school and my own language teachers, but that did not restrain one of the faculty members to ask if I would like to be their kindergarten teacher.

While I may not be technically joining the staff, I am very excited to be researching at SDK Mangunan. It the past three weeks I have already learned so much from Pak Ndaru and other teachers and staff, and I have glimpsed into the identity of this very fortunate creative group of one-hundred-and-fifty Indonesian children. In the meantime, please enjoy my touristy pictures! The first is me at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Borobudur, one of the world’s largest Buddhist temples, located about an hour north west of Yogya city. The other picture was taken at the Kraton yard on Muhammad’s Birthday, very much a carnival/giant market type of festival. While I am here for specific research, there are so many fantastic sites and things to do while I am living in this outrageously diverse country.

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