Pentas “Ekspresi Musik Anak-Anak di Indonesia”

After months of language training, observational research, questionnaires, discussion groups, performance practice, writing workshops, and recording sessions, twenty-one children from SDKE Mangunan presented their own informal, fourteen-track album! The final push to the presentation I referred to as a “tornado,” running around Yogyakarta, sweeping up supplies, making album booklets, writing programs, and generally hoping everything would turn out perfectly. The children throughout this process have seemed very relaxed and happy (they are Javanese, after all), and it was quite entertaining to see them suddenly taking their music so seriously.

The principal of SDKE Mangunan asked if the concert could be held at 8 AM on a Saturday, so that all the students would be present (the younger grades leave earlier than the older), and so that community members and parents might be able to stop by. When I told the children that they would be performing in front of the school, some (mostly girls) got to practicing right away. The boys, on the other hand, I would have to ask to practice each song at least three times before they could eat cookies. The presentation took place on a swelteringly hot day. I arrived at school early to prepare, and the student body and a few teachers were completing their weekly aerobics exercises. The participating children all ran to me in small groups as word got out that the t-shirt I made for them had finally arrived. This was easily the most anticipated part of their experience. The week before I handed out the final copies of the albums to each student, with their own art as the cover (yes, twenty-one different album covers!), which was nice, but not nearly as cool as a black t-shirt with American and Indonesian flags that formed the bottom of two eighth notes.

As a surprise opening act, a first-grade girl (the daughter of the drama teacher) performed a traditional Balinese dance. She had cardboard wings attached to her arms and glittering gold fabric wrapped around her tiny body. She looked doll-like but soon proved her great maturity in a carefully choreographed solo dance that excited the crowd. As she left the stage (which was incidentally the elevated entrance to the kindergarten classroom), I explained the nature of my research and all of the work that the children had done. I tried to convey that this project really is completely by the children themselves, and that I merely guided them with themes about their own culture. All of the lyrics, music, instrumentation, arrangement, cover-art, and practice effort was a product of the children’s own creativity and hard work.

Without much further ado, I give you an edited version of the performance. Please do note that in Java, it is common and normal for audience members to talk and walk around during performances (from traditional gamelan to rock concerts, even academic paper presentations, which I so naively thought would be an exception). As such, it was quite difficult to hear the children; many were excited though still nervous, carefully reading their lyrics that they had already memorized, leaning away from microphones, trying to act coolly nonchalant on stage. The post-performance enthusiasm from the audience and faculty was undeniable.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who made this incredible project possible: mtvU Fulbright; the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation; Institut Seni Indonesia and my counterpart Pak Djohan Salim; SDKE Mangunan and the kepala sekolah Pak Ponidjan; the non-governmental organization Dinamika Edukasi Dasar; the infinite support of my friends, family, and professors at Connecticut College Professor Wilson, Professor McNeish, and Professor Thomas; Pak Ndaru for going above and beyond any and all expectations out of love and support for music and the students; and most importantly, all of the children from SDKE Mangunan who participated, this is truly their project! Terima kasih semuanya untuk membaca blogku dan mendengarkan musiknya!

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