On Oct. 28, as part of its Fall Puppet Forum Series, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut hosted Javanase musician and scholar Sumarsam for a presentation on “Javanese Puppet Theater and the West.” Sumarsam is the University Professor of Music at Wesleyan.
Sumarsam’s talk included discussion of the complex nature of Javanese wayang kulit shadow theater in the context of his recent research into the history of Javanese gamelan culture.
Professor Sumarsam’s work analyzes adaptations in gamelan art as a result of Western colonialism in 19th century Java, showing how Western musical and dramatic practices were domesticated by Javanese performers to create hybrid Javanese-Western art forms, such as with the introduction of brass bands in traditional court music and western theatrical idioms in contemporary wayang puppet plays.
The event included a book signing for Professor Sumarsam’s newest work, Javanese Gamelan and the West, hosted by the UConn Co-op Bookstore.
University Professor of Music Sumarsam is the author of an article titled “Bali–Java Cultural Exchange: Gamelan Carabalen,” published in Interculturalism and Mobility of the Performing Arts, Sound, Movement for the Proceeding of the 3rd Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on Performing Arts in Southeast Asia.
Gamelan Carabalen is an ancient, processional Javanese ensemble whose creation was inspired by a processional Balinese gamelan.
“Ethnicity and cultural identity is the product of specific historical condition. Viewed in a context of history of ethnic relations, we find very complex picture, dynamic process, and multifaceted forms and meanings of ethnicity and its performing arts,” Sumarsam said. “With this perspective in mind, the article examines Java–Bali cultural encounters, its impact on the development of, ethnic identity, music and musical culture.”
PhD candidate Ander Terwilliger, University Professor of Music Sumarsam and PhD candidate Christine Yong attended the International Council for Traditional Music conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.
From July 14–23, two ethnomusicology PhD candidates — Christine Yong and Ander Terwilliger — along with five alumni —Tan Sooi Beng ’80, Donna Kwon ’95, Jonathan Kramer ’71, Sylvie Bruinders ’99, and Becky Miller ’94 — joined University Professor of Music Sumarsam at the 2015 conference of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) in Astana, Kazakhstan. Tan Sooi Beng was elected to the ICTO executive board.
The International Council for Traditional Music is a non-governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO. It aims to further the study, practice, documentation, preservation and dissemination of traditional music and dance of all countries.
At the conference, Sumarsam presented a talk titled “Expressing And Contesting Java-Islam Encounters In The Performing Arts;” and Kwon spoke on “Glimpses Beyond The Curtain: Making Sense Of North Korean Musical Performance in the Age of Social Media.” Kwon also was a recipient of this year’s prestigious American Council of Learned Societies grant.
Stanley Scott, private lessons teacher in music, authored a chapter titled “Modernism in South Asian Art Music,” published in the The Modernist World, part of the Routledge Worlds series, in 2015.
Scott traces modernism in South Asian art music from its 18th century roots to the 21st century. The examples, drawn from Pakistan, North India and Bangladesh, represent parallel developments throughout South Asia. The seeds of South Asian modernism were sown in 18th century Calcutta, with the emergence of British orientalist scholarship and the development of the urban South Asian intelligentsia. The orientalist discovery of India’s “golden age” allowed Hindu nationalists to find inspiration in an India that predated both European colonization and Islamic rule. North Indian music, in particular, served sometimes as an icon of national identity, sometimes of revived Hindu hegemony, and sometimes of an Indo-Islamic synthesis.
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Pictured at the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Annual Meeting are, from left, Wesleyan’s Ender Terwilliger, Po-wei Weng, Joy Lu and Su Zheng.
During the 2014 Society for Ethnomusicology’s 59th Annual Meeting, held Nov. 13-16 in Pittsburgh, Pa., Wesleyan graduate students collaborated to present the first panel dedicated to Taiwanese identity and music.
The panel, titled “How Taiwanese Should I Be? Contesting Taiwanese Identities in Local, Regional and Global Contexts,” comprised of Ph.D. candidates Joy Lu and Po-wei Weng, and graduate student Ender Terwilliger.
Su Zheng, associate professor of music, chaired the panel.
Covering Taiwanese opera, Pili Budaixi, and fusion performances, the panel explored the process of identity formation when promoting Taiwanese identity in politically delicate situations domestically and overseas.
In addition, Ph.D. candidates Dustin Wiebe, Min Yang and Fugan Dineen presented papers at the conference.
Maho Ishiguro, an ethnomusicology doctoral student, received a Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) Fellowship to study the female Saman dance in Indonesia. The award came with a $29,508 stipend.
Ishiguro’s proposed research title is “Saman Dance in Diaspora Presence of Female Saman Dance as Expressions of Piety Cultural Identity and Popular Culture.” Her DDRA project will examine the contemporary life of female Saman dance in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Banda Aceh.
Saman dance, or the dance of a “thousand hands” is typically performed in Gayo Lues, a mountainous region of Aceh, by eight to 20 male performers who kneel in a row and make different kinds of torso movements accompanied by songs, clapping hands, slapping chests or slapping the floor. The dance traditionally is performed to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad and has been used recently to promote Acehnese as well as Indonesia’s national culture.
“Indonesia’s deepening Islamization today impacts the nations’ performing arts and the conduct of Muslim women’s lives,” Ishiguro said. “In Aceh, despite its Islamic origin, female adults were prohibited from performing Saman dance at public events.
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Hankus Netsky Ph.D. ’04
Hankus Netsky, who received a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan in 2004, has been chosen by the editorial staff of The Forward — a well-respected weekly newspaper covering the Jewish world — as one of the 50 American Jews who have had the greatest impact on the world in 2013, alongside the likes of Harvey Fierstein, Mandy Patinkin and Janet Yellen.
Netsky is the chair of the contemporary improvisation department at the New England Conservatory of Music. He has mentored countless young Jewish musicians, many of whom attended NEC primarily to study with him, and has guided jazz and classical instrumentalists as they expand and evolve the Jewish repertoire to coincide with modern times.
At a recent performance by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman and cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Netsky was the less-visible but highly influential musical director.
The Forward refers to him as, “a quiet but powerful force affecting nearly every corner of contemporary Jewish music.”
Read more about Netsky in this New England Conservatory press release.
Ethnomusicologist Sumarsam, University Professor of Music, is the author of two new articles published in 2013.
“Past and Present Issues of Javanese-European Musical Hybridity,” was published in Recollecting Resonances: Indonesian-Dutch Musical Encounters by Leiden: Brill, pages 87-108.
Soon after the introduction of European music in Java in the 18th century, Java-European musical hybrids emerged. In his article Sumarsam asks the following questions: how do we explain the incorporation of European sounds into the indigenous gamelan ensemble? Is this incorporation a kind of Javanese-European intercultural sonic dialogue, a subversive act of European authority, or the domestication of an exotic sound? Sumarsam addresses these questions by examining the history and meaning of “marching gamelan pieces” in the court of Yogyakarta and other hybrid genres, the performance of which requires the inclusion of European brass bands and drums and other Western instruments.
“A Preliminary Report on Javanese Wayang and Islamic Dakwah,” was published in (Re)Producing Southeast Asian Performing Arts by Manila: Philippine Women’s University, pages 200-203.
In the preaching of Islam (dakwah), some preachers in Java incorporate wayang shadow puppet play to make their presentation more interesting and effective. In this regard, the Hindu story and characters are linked to Islam. To attract the audience further, the musical accompaniment for this play is a hybrid ensemble consisting of some indigenous gamelan instruments (traditional) and Western electric keyboard, guitars, and a drum sets (modern). The article addresses the dynamic hybridization of this wayang dakwah.
Ethnomusicologist Sumarsam, University Professor of Music, participated in a festival and conference on Indonesian performing arts at the Smithsonian Institution Oct. 31-Nov. 3. Sumarsam and Andy McGraw Ph.D. ’06 helped organize the conference, “Performing Indonesia: Conference, Music, Dance, and Drama” with support from the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Sumarsam delivered the conference’s keynote address on “Traditional Performing Arts of Indonesia in a Globalizing World” on Nov. 2. He discussed Javanese musical and cultural interactions with the rest of the world, focusing on current trends in and the changing role of classical and contemporary gamelan music and other genres in Indonesia and around the globe.
In addition, six Wesleyan alumni delivered paper presentations or chaired sessions at the event.
During the opening ceremony of the festival on Oct. 31, Sumarsam and Andy McGraw Ph.D. ’06 received a “Certificate of Appreciation” for their role in strengthening the ties of friendship between Indonesia and the U.S. The event was attended by the Indonesian Ambassador, the Smithsonian museum director, the Sultan of Yogyakarta, the Director General of Indonesian, Cultural Attache of Indonesia, and many others.
On Nov. 3, Sumarsam, Artist-in-Residence I.M. Harjito and members of the Wesleyan Gamelan participated in a “jam session” with gamelan teachers at the California Institute of the Arts, University of Michigan, U.C. Berkeley and other American gamelan teachers/musicians.
The Center for the Arts presented the 37th annual Navaratri Festival, celebrating the traditional culture of India with performances by some of the country’s leading artists on Oct. 10-13. One of India’s major festival celebrations, Navaratri is a time to see family and friends, enjoy music and dance, and seek blessings for new endeavors.
“For us Indian musicians traveling all over the world and especially in the U.S., this campus has been a place of great respect and wonder because of its ability to sustain this program for over 30 years,” said tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, who also performed during the 2010 festival. “It is a privilege and a blessing to be a part of this incredible environment.”
The 37th annual Navaratri Festival was supported by the Music Department, the Center for the Arts, the Jon B. Higgins Memorial Fund, the Madhu Reddy Endowed Fund for Indian Music and Dance at Wesleyan University, the Raga Club of Connecticut, the New England Foundation for the Arts, Middlesex Community College, Haveli Indian Restaurant and individual patrons.
On Oct. 11, vocalist B. Balasubrahmaniyan, adjunct assistant professor of music, performed “Vocal Music of South India” as part of the festival.
Balasubrahmaniyan was joined by David Nelson, adjunct assistant professor of music on mridangam and violinist L. Ramakrishnan and Sriram Ramesh on kanjira.
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New book by Sumarsam.
Sumarsam, the University Professor of Music, is the author of Javanese Gamelan and the West, published by the University of Rochester Press on July 1.
In Javanese Gamelan, Sumarsam examines the meaning, forms and traditions of the Javanese performing arts as they developed and changed through their contact with Western culture. The book traces the adaptations in gamelan art as a result of Western colonialism in 19th century Java, showing how Western musical and dramatic practices were domesticated by Javanese performers creating hybrid Javanese-Western art forms, such as with the introduction of brass bands in gendhing mares court music and West Javanese tanjidor, and Western theatrical idioms in contemporary wayang puppet plays.
The book also examines the presentation of Javanese gamelan to the West, detailing performances in World’s Fairs and American academia and considering its influence on Western performing arts and musical and performance studies. The end result is a comprehensive treatment of the formation of modern Javanese gamelan and a fascinating look at how an art form dramatizes changes and developments in a culture.
As a gamelan musician and a keen amateur dhalang/ (puppeteer) of Javanese wayang puppet play, Sumarsam performs, conducts workshops, and lectures throughout the U.S., Australia, Europe and Asia.