My time spent with the students of SDKE Mangunan has been quite informative and insightful. Having started in February, every Tuesday I meet with Kelompok Besar (the big group, grades four, five, and six), Friday with Kelompok Kecil (the small group, grades one, two, and three), and Saturday I observe Pak Ndaru’s three music classes. The grades switch off each Saturday, so grades one, two, and three will have music class the first week, while grades four, five, and six have drama class; the following week classes alternate. With this schedule, the students are only able to have music class once every other week; I am so glad that the school, Pak Ponijan, and Pak Ndaru have been so supportive of my program, allowing me and the children to use the school’s space and instruments to give those participating an opportunity to play music after school every week.
Those participating are mostly children who live within the school’s neighborhood, so as not to obligate parents to sacrifice time in their work schedule taking their children back and forth from school. There are between twenty-four and thirty-five children that attend (mostly boys), depending on the week. At the beginning of the program I assured the children that I was not their teacher (rather, that they are mine!), that there would be no homework, and that if they could not or did not want to come every week that was their prerogative. This sifted out a few students, and with Java’s jam karet (rubber time), two or three students will always stroll in late.
During the first few meetings the children listed their favorite songs, sang them as one large group or in small groups, and we discussed what kinds of songs they were and what they were about. Song genres included children’s songs, national songs, traditional songs, pop songs, karencong, dangdut, and campur sari. Funnily enough, Kelompok Kecil listed mostly pop songs that they hear on the radio or on TV, though they did not know the words well enough to sing the songs. This lead most responses to “tentang apa?” to be, “tentang cinta!” (“About what?” “About love!”). Other group activities involved discussions of their musical culture. With both groups I asked the children to list examples under the following headings: kinds of music; musical instruments; dance (kinds of dance or dancers); where do you listen to music; where do you play music; with whom do you play music; where do you learn music; and other matters (to which I got the responses, food, sports, and traditional music).
As the children are between the ages of six and fifteen, they often lose concentration or interest. This was at first a source of great frustration; the children confirmed that they enjoyed discussing and playing music, but I could not understand why their attention was always slipping. Pak Ndaru consoled me in explaining that his first few months as the school’s music teacher went very similarly. He realized the activities had to change every fifteen minutes or so to keep the children engaged and excited. I took this advice to heart and now make sure to have a few activities planned to maintain the children’s interest each time we meet. There is no doubt all of the children enjoy playing music, but for my research and their own creative development it is important to keep them on a forward-moving track. (I also make sure to bring plenty of cookies, too.)
Recently meetings have been divided into short name games (using the body as a rhythmic instrument, as the children have been learning in class with Pak Ndaru), group discussions, practicing songs (with vocals and instrumentation, sometimes with an emphasis on subject matter, i.e. “life in Indonesia”), and performing in small groups for everyone. The instruments the children play are mostly those that can be found at home: tin cans, empty water gallons, glass bottles. A few traditional percussion instruments have been donated to the school (some by Pak Djohan, my counterpart, professor at the Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta, and Mangunan’s former music teacher): a djembe, kendhangs of three sizes (leather-headed drums from the gamelan), and a hollowed bamboo instrument. I have seen and heard female students play two small plastic recorders, but instrumentation has mostly been percussion.
I find that practice and performance time is the most important part of our meetings, as well as what the children enjoy doing most. To be a successful musician one must practice, and it is unfortunate that the children are only able to two or three times per month in school, but most also enjoy playing at home with friends and family. Participants of the program are also able to play at least once more per week now, and a few children attend meetings with the other age group, which is encouraged for them to at least observe other students and play with unused instruments while the children practice. The importance of the small performances is three-fold: first, it is still more practice but with emphasis on the presence of a listening audience; second, the children become more comfortable playing in front of and speaking with me (as I am a participant observer, or even worse, a white woman from America); finally, I hope these small performances inspire confidence in the children. Javanese culture is a shy one; often students are too embarrassed to speak or perform in front of others, though there are some very gifted and creative children within this small school alone.
I have started to come to the meetings with my small Flip Camera (as provided by mtvU!). Sometimes I will record the short presentations and show the students after all have performed. This allows for them to see and hear what they sound like. As they grow more comfortable with me, I have started to provide short critiques (for example: great tempo; good choice of instruments; next time sing louder; the tin-cans should play softer; et cetera).
Here are two videos from Kelompok Besar, both playing traditional Javanese songs. The first group includes four girls, Anis, Bunga, Dewi, and Ketin. All of them are singing “Padang Bulan,” while Bunga plays kaleng and pemukul (ting can and stick), and Ketin plays botol and sendok (glass bottle and spoon). This song is traditionally sung by children in the evening, when they gather to play outside after dinner. The second video is a recording of “Suwe Ora Jamu,” as performed by Tegar, Robi, Roki, Dokras, and Joko. All of the boys are singing except for Tegar (who usually likes singing, but said he was too hot that day). In this clip we see Joko on gallon (empty water gallon), Dokras on kaleng (tin can), Roki on a djembe (a leather-headed African drum), Robi on kendhang (leather drum from the gamelan), and Tegar on kentongan (bamboo instrument). This popular regional song is about jamu, a traditional Javanese liquid concoction of many medicinal varieties, depending on a person’s ailment.
The children are a bit more goofy, giggly, and shy in these videos, as they knew they would be posted on the internet. My hope is that over the next few months their habitual practicing and performing with me will inspire confidence in their musical skills, as well as fine tuning their stage presence. Ultimately the goal of the program is to have the children write their own songs and perform them. We have begun the writing process, in addition to finishing a three-part series of survey questions I had the children answer about music, living in Java, and their creative processes. For now, I hope you all enjoy the videos! I am already so proud to have the voices of these young musicians of Mangunan available for a host of international listeners.