Indonesia in Focus
Chinese Music and the High School: Jakarta, Indonesia
What do you get when you have ordinary Indonesian students combined with traditional Chinese instruments?. You have a Indonesian-Chinese Harmony Orchestra, that’s what you have!. As Tari Danawidjaja in Jakarta explains, the students at the Notre Dame High School are brilliant.
Students cultivate interests in Chinese music
Tari Danawidjaja, Contributor, Jakarta
With only one month to practice, the students of Notre Dame High School in West Jakarta have proved their talent in playing traditional Chinese instruments. They started to practice in December 2005, and they have improved rapidly.
“We practice two times a week. And we’ve been improving very well,” said a member of Notre Dame 12 Orchestra late last month.
The Notre Dame 12 is the first Mandarin school orchestra in Indonesia since 1965, when the government imposed a ban on public displays of Chinese music and culture.
The main objective of this orchestra, which has 13 players consisting of 4 erhu (Chinese violins), 3 pipes (Chinese guitar), 2 dizi (Chinese pipe), 2 guzheng (Chinese harp), 1 dagu (drum) and 1 dazha (cymbal), is to cultivate young people’s interest in traditional music.
Performing on traditional Chinese instruments is not as easy as it may look at first glance. None of these students were familiar with the instruments to begin with. But soon, as the their director/teacher decided who was going to be playing each instrument, they started to pay extra attention.
Interestingly, the teacher comes from China, but does not speak a single word of Indonesian or English. In fact, he only speaks one language — Mandarin. However, since it is not a language course and because most already know at least a few Mandarin phrases and perhaps more, the language barrier does not stop these students from learning the instruments.
“It’s very different from other musical instruments,” added one student.
One of the most complicated to play is the erhu. This Chinese violin has a similar role as the drum/percussion in modern music. Erhu plays an important role as the harmony keeper. So, if an erhu player plays the wrong rhythm, it might affect other players.
Unlike the erhu that plays an important role, the guzheng –which can be seen in most “kung fu” movies — player has little to worry about they make a minor mistake.
“We don’t have to worry about slipping one or two notes, because, people would not notice. But if those erhu players make mistakes, people definitely would hear that,” admits Chenny.
To play the guzheng, Chenny and Nora must use a special pick to prevent blisters. The two have showed their talent in playing the soundtrack to Wong Fei Hung (The Kung Fu Master).
“Everybody is familiar with the song. And it’s not that hard. So, it’s easier for us to play it,” said Yaenna who plays the pipes.
These imported instruments are very expensive, however. No wonder, all the instruments are provided by the Jakarta International Oriental Music School (JIOMS), which also is part of the Indonesia Music School with direct links to the China Music School.
This orchestra is a first step to a Indonesia-China Harmony Orchestra, which will combine traditional Chinese instruments and Indonesian (gamelan), and will consist of 40 players. Hopefully, the traditional Chinese orchestra remains popular among teenagers who seem to give more appreciation to modern music nowadays.
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