martes, 16 de febrero de 2010

Amir Pasaribu : a brief encounter

I start this with a confession : I am a (classical music) pianist and composer, and I also don't know much about Amir Pasaribu. I use the word "also" since we know how unknown is Amir Pasaribu in his own country. But that's quite understandable; I mean, if you go to the streets of Copenhagen and ask the people who Carl Nielsen was, most probably 50% of them won't be able to answer either. It's a totally different case with Jean Sibelius, since the Finnish government has built a Sibelius Park, Sibelius Academy of Music ....and any composer would know his name from the computer program : Sibelius.

The worst thing about the anonymity of Amir Pasaribu is that he is unknown to the classical music society in Indonesia who in fact owes him a great deal. Even in Medan, where he was born (and died on the 10th of February last week), I remember mentioning his name to the music students at a music academy, and most of them didn't know who he is. Now with facebooks, twitters etc, most of those cyber-fan clubs of classical music showed a kind of indifference upon his death. I think it is because the classical music society in Indonesia has established a strange criteria for composers who "deserve to be recognized" : they are usually white and dead. Well Michael Jackson isn't exactly the guy who fits this criteria ; I mean long dead, and really white-skinned, you know, like Tschaikovsky or Beethoven. Amir Pasaribu realized this too well to be able to advise me during our first and last meeting : "Stay abroad. In this country artists are not appreciated". He meant local artists, obviously. Local pop or rock musicians have managed to flourish in Indonesia, but classical musicians and composers still have to face the resistance of our own colleagues.

OK, OK, Pasaribu hasn't written so much music (in a span of a few years, I could say I've written more music than him, but I also have a much better life quality than him back in the 1950s), but what he has done was entering new territories of music which no man in Indonesia has gone before. He was the first Indonesian composer who explored the polytonality, polyrhythms, new scales and modes etc.; yeah it was discovered by Stravinsky and other Europeans, but he was the first to apply those techniques to music which has an Indonesian character, therefore manifested that the Europeans don't have an exclusive ownership to those techniques. I guess it was because he was an adventurer and a groundbreaking composer that he couldn't write so much music (in quantity) ; he had to work out many new things so that they could stand "the test of time". Other composers like me are having all those served on a golden tray. I do admit that I owe a lot of compositional ideas and methods from people like Pasaribu (and Stravinsky, Britten and others, naturally, but I do think Pasaribu has established a new sound, only possible written by an Indonesian composer) : methods that THEY have proved to function properly in musical compositions therefore is ready to be used by "lazy" composers in the future (like me). And yeah, composer don't have to be a pioneer or a groundbreaker (like most of us are not), so if he or she is one, they should be given merit for that. It is thanks to those pioneers that my and other Indonesian composer's job (and life) are now easier !

miércoles, 3 de febrero de 2010

What's the use of the arts?

You might have asked (at least to yourself) this question, right? It seems as if the arts are just a fun game for the rich or for those who have too much time in this world to spend. Even worse, there are some (frustrated) artists who give you this impression; they live as bohemians, thinking it's cool to be part of this longest word in English : antiestablishmentarianism (Hey, it's not the longest! "Smiles" is even longer : there is a mile between the first and the last S). They like to be against anything, and claim that they are mavericks and they don't care about the "rotten" society they live in. Well they can do what they like, but they should remember that artists are, by definition, people who produce art. They should do it first, then worry about being antisocial later.

Well, I wouldn't say that art is useless. At least, I can argue from my own field: classical music. First of all, you've heard that music can calm you down, stabilize your emotions, help you focus, decrease your depression etc. Instead of taking a tranquilizer or an anti-depressant, just listen to Mozart! A step forward from it is that we now have what is called musicotherapy. Well ok, it can't cure everything, but it starts with your spirit. And it is even more powerful if you don't just listen, but you actively (re-)creating it by playing an instrument or singing. It's not just a myth; you can study it now at the universities in Europe. The contrary is true: junk music can wake up the dark side of your psyche and lead you to the not-so-great way of life. And it is more addictive than good music, just like junk food. And both have something in common: they are "instant"ly made. Instant food = junk food, therefore instant music = you know the answer. And yes, they are cheap.

But again it raises the question: ok, healthcare is covered by social security in European countries, but do they cover musical activities? And in those countries where (classical) music is considerably expensive, how can citizens have access to it?

It was with this question in mind that we started our foundation in Jakarta. "We" are 8 people : Pia Alisjahbana, Dedi Panigoro, Karini Nugroho, Karina Suklan, Putu Swasti, Dewi Gajahmada, Chendra Panatan and me. And the foundation is "Yayasan Musik Sastra Indonesia" (Indonesian classical music foundation). Our aim is to help the financially under-priviliged to get access and education to classical music, by starting to learn to play an instrument, giving scholarships (even to very advanced students, like to our Ananda Sukarlan Award 2008 winner Inge Melania Buniardi) or even just coming to good quality classical music concerts. You can find out more about it at .

Almost around the same time, 10.000 miles away (to be precise in a very small town of Urrueña, about 2 hours drive from Madrid) a strong figure of a lady who has a disabled son was thinking about the possibility of making music by the disabled people. Rosa Iglesias has since then founded her Fundacion Musica Abierta (Open Music Foundation) and commissioned many composers to write music (which should sound like absolutely normal) that can be played by disabled musicians. I was lucky to be part of this project, together with my amazing colleagues such as David del Puerto, Jesus Rueda or Santiago Lanchares (she not only commissioned Spanish composers, by the way). For this project I wrote mostly duos, for a disabled pianist and a "normal" instrument (bassoon, trumpet, violin, viola and my favorite instrument which is the human voice), thinking that it's even nicer to have nice companies in making music. I guess Rosa's project is, if not the first, one of the first project of this kind in this world. Now we are planning a "sisterhood" project between my foundation and hers, and we are brainstorming on how we can make the world a better place. Any suggestions?

By the way, Rosa's foundation's website is