Tuesday, December 1, 2009

American Academic Bangs the Drum for Javanese Gamelan

Sukoharjo, Central Java. An American academic expressed concern on Monday over younger Indonesians’ apparent lack of interest in studying traditional gamelan orchestral music, which she linked to the growing popularity of Western culture at the expense of Javanese culture.

“Every time I come to Central Java to watch the traditional art performances, like wayang kulit [shadow-puppet plays], I have found that the gamelan players are mostly above 40 years of age. Where are the children and young people?” said Margaret DuFon, a professor of Asian-American literature and Asian studies at California State University’s Chico campus.

DuFon, herself a gamelan player, said it was becoming increasingly difficult to find young people in Indonesia who listened to or played gamelan.

She said it was disconcerting that many young people seemed to prefer Western music as opposed to traditional forms of Indonesian music.

“Culture is closely related to lifestyle, and for me personally, American musical culture is agitating,” she said. “As a person who loves Javanese culture very much, I worry about the younger generations who have this identity crisis and culture shock.”

DuFon was an international guest at this weekend’s Gamelan Makers Festival in Polokarto, a village close to the border between Yogyakarta and East Java.

The professor, who is fluent in both Indonesian and Javanese, said she supported regional movements to promote local cultural roots. She also expressed hope that school curriculums and national examinations could be tailored to incorporate more traditional cultural aspects from each region, including the arts and languages.

“A language shows a nation,” she said. “I’m concerned to see many women prefer to use Indonesian with their children at home because they want their children to be able to communicate in school using Indonesian.”

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