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    Hitting the Right Notes

    FOR a country of 240 million people, Indonesia’s Western music scene is surprisingly low key. There are only two well-established symphony orchestras, well-designed auditoriums are rare, and few Western-trained musicians can find enough work to make a decent living.

     

    FOR a country of 240 million people, Indonesia’s Western music scene is surprisingly low key. There are only two well-established symphony orchestras, well-designed auditoriums are rare, and few Western-trained musicians can find enough work to make a decent living.

    Contrast this with five-million-strong Singapore, where music festivals showcase the nation’s talent throughout the year and quality auditoriums are plentiful.

    Why the difference? Why, indeed. Indonesians in general may be poor, but the country has a rapidly growing middle class, and the nation is hardly devoid of talent.

    Indonesia has a handful of university-supported student ensembles, but they lack good management and artistic directors. There are only two professional groupings. They are the Nusantara Symphony Orchestra, financed regularly by Medco (an oil company) together with several banks; and Twilite, a project- based orchestra that specialises in the performance of soundtracks from films – it draws much of its income from the sale of tickets, and sometimes performs on local television.

    Somewhat surprisingly, the country’s best auditorium was not designed for public use at all. Located at the Bank Indonesia complex in Central Jakarta, it can only be used by special permission.

    In general, the public have to be content with less impressive auditoriums built by foreign embassies. Inevitably, all are located in Jakarta.

    Recent years have seen the establishment of several music schools where Indonesians can study music at an advanced level. Apart from Yogyakarta’s well-established, government-funded Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI), there is the Jakarta Conservatory of Music and Institut Musik Indonesia. Both are located in Jakarta.

    Some secondary schools also maintain marching bands that have the potential to provide such institutions with students.

    Sadly, however, the range of musical instruments taught in Indonesia’s music academies is quite narrow, focusing almost entirely on piano, strings and voice. Apart from ISI, almost none provides advanced instruction in brass, for example.

    The London-based Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) operated in Indonesia for more than 30 years before its examiners had the opportunity to assess brass candidates. The musical drought was broken in 2009, when 25 members of Medan's Brass Band Jenderal (BBJ) a Salvation Army brass band, entered the examinations as five quintets.

    Little wonder that local orchestras often end up borrowing Thai and Singaporean brass players.

    Even sadder, perhaps, is the way Indonesians tend to underestimate the ability of their own citizens. The local organisers of this year’s Steinway Competition for piano, for example, included a rule expressly prohibiting contestants from playing the works of local composers.

    Such an attitude, it seems, is widespread. Several years ago, well-known pianist Ananda Sukarlan wrote several piano examination pieces at the invitation of the ABRSM. No Indonesian candidate chose to perform them, although several foreigners did.

    All this suggests that Indonesia’s main problem is psychological. With a more sensible approach to music education, better planning and more self-confidence, there seems no reason why Indonesia could not be among the Western music powerhouses of Asia.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    A poor but talented Indonesian E-flat tuba player who wants to study music in Singapore's prestigious Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), is very close to realising his dream.

    An impossible dream?

    When Joe Darion wrote the lyrics to the famous melody written by Mitch Leigh for the 1965 hit musical Man of La Mancha, I don't suppose he spent much time thinking about the ambitions of E flat tuba players.

    Are musicians more moody and prone to suicide than other people?

     

    Many people believe that musicians are more moody and prone to suicide than other professionals, and that - as a result - a greater percentage of them end their lives in mental institutions or are fated to live emotionally tempestuous lives. Musicians are also commonly suspected of being over sensitive to criticism, having delusions of grandeur and other neurotic traits.

    The statistics fail to bear this out, although it is possible to find enough examples to make the case in front of those unfamiliar with Western musical history. Like actors, politicians and others obliged to face the public on a regular basis, musicians probably have their fair share of emotional problems. However, such problems do not constitute evidence of neuroticism.

     Musicians probably have their fair share of emotional problems. 

    Beethoven was known for his moodiness, but this was probably closely related to his growing frustration as he began to go deaf. Among the famous composers, only Schumann and MacDowell ended  up in mental institutions. Musicians probably have no more suicidal impulses than the rest of the population. But should a prominent musician decide to take his life, it is likely to get a good deal of publicity.

    Perhaps the most morbid suicide was planned by the pianist Alexander Kelberine, who arranged his last concert programme to consist only of works dealing with death. He then went home and took an overdose of sleeping pills. Schumann jumped into the Rhine, only to be rescued by a fisherman. Rezso Seress composed Gloomy Sunday, a work that was once banned in Europe because it triggered a wave of suicides by young people on Sundays. Seress himself committed suicide by jumping out of a window. The vast majority of musicians, however, die of causes that reflect the state of medical knowledge in the particular historical period in which they live.

    Some musicians certainly had sad lives. Mozart, perhaps the greatest of the composers in the Classical Period of music, died a pauper. The pianist Chopin, a Polish nationalist and tormented lover, was terrified of large audiences. He died of tuberculosis when he was 39. Bizet, a French composer who died when he was 36, was beset by crises of self-confidence and emotional upheaval. Unlike Chopin, his works only achieved widespread recognition after his death.

     Wagner had the emotional maturity of a spoilt child. 

    George Gershwin only had a short life, but it was a good one. He died of a brain tumor when he was 39 after a rags to riches story that made him one of the most well known composers of popular music in  the United States.

    Others lived long and had much success, despite treating others abominably, including many of their friends. Wagner considered himself a genius as a playwright, poet, stage director, and philosopher as well as a composer, and was not shy about letting others know it! Although not particularly handsome, his personal magnetism was such that he had numerous affairs, usually with married women, despite the fact that he was married himself. His biographers describe him as having the emotional maturity of a spoilt child, complete with tantrums if he could not get his way. He died at the age of 70, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest composers of his time.

    The pianist Franz Liszt's dashing good looks enabled him to have numerous affairs with many woman. He died of pneumonia at the age of 75. Contrast this with the fate of Schubert, who was short, fat, bespectacled and naturally shy. He died of syphilis at the age of 31 after his friends encouraged him to visit a brothel. Those who knew him well described him as having a warm and friendly nature. Somehow, it doesn't sound fair.

     The life of J.S. Bach must have been very boring. 

    The majority of musicians now and in the past lead fairly quiet lives. Edward Elgar, a largely self-taught musician, rose from humble origins to become the first English composer in 200 years to gain international acclaim. He had a stable marriage, and was regarded by many as a typical English gentleman. He died at the age of 77. Sergei Rachmaninov, the Russian composer, also had a good life despite being out of step with his country's politics and music. He died at the age of 70.

    The life of J.S. Bach must have been the most boring of all. He spent almost his entire life in the same small region of Germany where he was born. And nobody took much notice of him either. It was not until about 80 years after his death that his works attracted the attention they deserved.

     

    Concert Nerves

    In his book Random Reflections, the late English classical composer and pedagogue William Lovelock recalls an occasion where he was called upon to examine music candidates at a school.

    Hitting the Right Notes

    FOR a country of 240 million people, Indonesia’s Western music scene is surprisingly low key. There are only two well-established symphony orchestras, well-designed auditoriums are rare, and few Western-trained musicians can find enough work to make a decent living.

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