Sumarsam, who is celebrating his 45th year at Wesleyan, teaches conference participants about gamelan. (Photo by Olivia Drake)
This month, the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture, will award Sumarsam, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, with a Cultural and Traditional Arts Maestro Award.
The honor, Satyalancana Kebudayaan, is awarded on decree from Indonesia President Joko Widodo and given to eight outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to develop and foster Indonesian traditional culture.
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Sumarsam, pictured third from left in the top row, joined 40 scholars for the “Visiting World Class Professors” program in December.
From Dec. 17-24, 2016, University Professor of Music Sumarsam and other 40 diasporic Indonesian scholars were invited by the Indonesian Minister of Research, Technology, and Higher Education (Ristekdikti) to participate in a program called “Visiting World Class Professor.” The program aims at enhancing human resources of higher education in Indonesia through various scholarly activities.
After the opening of the program by the Vice President Yusuf Kalla, the Minister of Ristekdikti and its Director General of Resources, the first day of the program consisted of seminars and workshops in Jakarta, attended by university rectors and academics. Each of the scholars were then sent to one or two of the 29 universities throughout Indonesian cities, holding a series of workshops, lectures and discussion with members of the faculty of the selected university.
Sumarsam was sent to the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) in Surakarta (his alma mater).
Watch video clips (in Indonesian) of the event’s opening and news of the program online.
Sumarsam, University Professor of Music
On Nov. 9, Sumarsam, professor of music and puppeteer, performed his shadow-puppet play, Bima’s Quest for Enlightenment, at the Performing Indonesia: Islamic Intersections festival, presented by the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art and George Washington University. This music, dance, and theater festival celebrates the many manifestations of Islamic culture in the island nation, which is home to more Muslims than any other country.
During the festival, Sumarsam performed a condensed version of an all-night wayang puppet play, featuring only the main episodes of the story. Wayang is the Javanese word for shadow, or bayang in standard Indonesian. More than 200 people attended.
Additionally, Sumarsam and his students led a panel discussion “Intercultural and Interreligious Encounters in Indonesian Performing Arts.”
On Dec 2., Sumarsam and the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble will present a Javanese wayang puppet play in the World Music Hall. The performance is free and open to the public.
Sumarsam’s research on history, theory, and performance practice of gamelan and wayang, and on Indonesia-Western encounter theme has resulted in the publication of numerous articles and two books. His recent research focuses have been on the intersections between religion and performing arts.
Sumarsam, University Professor of Music, and Andy McGraw PhD ’05 served as co-editors for Performing Indonesia, a Smithsonian Freer Sackler online publication of 16 articles on Indonesian music, dance and drama.
Topics include choral singing of Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo; learning from American schoolchildren playing Balinese gamelan; the challenges of music sustainability in Lombok, Indonesia; gong evolution and practices, “the dancing goddess;” the acoustic concept of an American gamelan; musical kinship in the transnational Balinese gamelan community; and more.
In addition to serving as an editor, Sumarsam co-authored the introduction to the publication, and delivered the keynote address titled, “Dualisms in the Formative and Transformational Processes of Javanese Performing Arts.” His address was delivered at the Performing Indonesia Conference held at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 2013.
The paper examines the “formative and transformational processes of gamelan and wayang, Javanese performing art forms, and the ways in which these art forms impacted the arts as they were exposed by and introduced to the West.” Sumarsam and McGraw also analyzed some of the dualisms that accompany traditions, such as stasis/motion, sacred/secular, good/evil, traditional/contemporary and ethnicity/nationality.
University Professor of Music Sumarsam demonstrated puppet movements at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA), in Penang, Malaysia.
University Professor of Music Sumarsam and several PhD students and alumni recently presented papers at the 4th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (ICTM PASEA). The symposium was hosted by Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia, from July 31 to Aug. 6.
Sumarsam presented a paper titled, “Religiosity in Javanese Wayang Puppet Play,” and demonstrated puppet movements.
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Professor of Music Sumarsam was named as a fellow in the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) 2015-2016 fellowship competition. He was chosen as one of 69 fellows from a pool of nearly 1,100 applicants through a rigorous, multi-stage peer review process. As a fellow, Sumarsam will receive the opportunity to spend six to 12 months researching and writing full time on the project of his choosing, the support of the ACLS’s endowment.
The ACLS is dedicated to supporting scholars in the humanities and related social sciences at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels. Matthew Goldfeder, director of fellowship programs at ACLS, said, “The fellows’ projects exhibit great disciplinary, temporal, geographic, and methodological diversity. This year’s cohort, moreover, includes several independent scholars as well as faculty of all ranks, on and off the tenure track, from more than 50 colleges and universities, working on projects that peer reviewers deemed best poised to make original and significant contributions to knowledge.”
Sumarsam’s project, titled, “Expressing and Contesting Java-Islam Encounters: Performing Arts at the Crossroads,” examined the link between religion and culture in an Indonesian society and how the performing arts bolsters that link. He delves into “Javanese culture, the largest cultural group in a nation with the largest Muslim population, and analyzes discourses of trans-culturalism, the performing arts, and Islam.” The study “addresses the history and diversity of both traditional and popular Indonesian -Muslim expression, while unpacking Indonesia’s modern socio-cultural and religious development.”
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.
Ethnomusicologist Sumarsam, University Professor of Music, delivered a paper titled, “Javanese Gamelan in a Changing World,” during the annual meeting of the Asian Pacific Society for Ethnomusicology (APSE), hosted by Mahasarakham University, Thailand Jan. 6-9.
He also chaired plenary sessions at the annual meeting.
The main objectives of the APSE are to preserve and safeguard the ancient and traditional music and music of ethnic groups, which are invaluable cultural heritage of the world. The APSE has held a conference every year since 1994. Many ethnomusicologists, scholars, and musicians from all over the world, who are interested in Asian Pacific cultures, particularly, traditional music and ethnomusicology have joined and participated in these APSE events.
Sumarsam also participated in a recent festival and conference on Indonesian performing arts at the Smithsonian. Read about this conference here.
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, received a Henry Luce Fellowship grant worth $5,000 from the American Institute for Indonesian Studies (AIFIS) in January 2014 for his research on “Expressing and Contesting Java-Islam Encounters in the Performing Arts.”
Since 2001 due to global geo-politics, issues of religion and culture have been highlighted, especially within Muslim cultures that were repositioning in non-normative ways.
“This adjustment, the popular if historically flawed perception of Islam as ‘against performing arts’ has made for significant dialogue about performing arts,” Sumarsam said. “Inserted in a taking its cue from global dialogue between wahabi Islam and westernized global culture in a nation reasserting its own spiritual and national identity in the aftermath of the 1998 ouster of the repressive Suharto regime, this study will focus on the discourse around the performing arts in Java/Indonesia and Islam.”
Sumarsam will focus his research on the use of wayang puppet performances as a proselytizing tool (dakwah) that involves three component tiers of hybridity: Java, Islam, and Western. In this dakwah, the preacher incorporates wayang to reenact stories based on Hindu epics but frames them in the context of Java-Islam. Many of these performances are accompanied not by traditional gamelan music, but by a Western rock band, yet the band performs gamelan compositions, alongside the repertoire of Java-Western popular music.