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Ade Suparman & Nurrika

October 28, 2016

This week we remember Ade Suparman and Nurrika’s teaching visit last spring quarter with an article written by our MA student Shannon Bush.

ade suparman

Ade Suparman playing the kacapi.

Over the spring quarter, UW’s School of Music, in cooperation with the Southeast Asia Center, hosted artist in residence Ade Suparman and his wife, choreographer and dancer Nurrika. Ade, a master musician, composer and teacher, first began learning music during his childhood in West Java. His father taught him to play kacapi (Sundanese zither), an instrument which Ade began studying formally in high school at a prestigious arts conservatory in Bandung. There he learned music theory and trained in the classical Sundanese form before earning his B.A. at the Arts Institute (Institut Seni Indonesia) in Surakarta, Central Java.

It was in Bandung that he met Nurrika who studied traditional dance at the same conservatory. Like Ade, she found artistic inspiration from an array of forms and continued to expand her knowledge after graduation, incorporating contemporary elements into her repertoire. For Nurrika this means that in addition to the traditional court style, she specializes in folk dances as well as jaipongan—a dance that integrates movements from pencak silat martial arts.

Over the course of the residency, Ade taught classes and provided one-on-one tutorials to fifteen UW students while Nurrika worked with ten students learning dance. The students who participated represented a broad range of disciplines and fields—from Ethnomusicology to Asia Studies to Chemistry—and included undergrads, MA and PhD students. One of the dancers joined the class several weeks after the quarter began, but explained that the individual attention she received from Nurrika allowed her to master the movements in time to participate in the public performance showcasing pieces the students learned.

One of Ade’s students, Skúli Gestsson, was a musician in the rock band Dikta in his native Iceland for ten years before coming to UW to pursue a Master’s in Music Education. He was interested not only in learning gamelan, but also learning from Ade’s teaching methods. He noticed Ade also concentrated on each student’s individual development, adjusting his teaching style to suit their unique strengths and abilities. As they became more self-confident, cohesion between the musicians strengthened and individual talents coalesced as the gamelan orchestra took shape. This feeling of participation in a collective project—of having gained something beyond the practical knowledge acquired through learning a new instrument—was emphasized by every student. Isaac McDonald, an undergraduate who was then considering a major in Ethnomusicology, felt he learned about Indonesia through its music. “It’s a great way to dive into a culture you might not otherwise know anything about through the lens of something you’re really interested in.”

The residency culminated in a performance by Ade, Nurrika, the residency students, and special guests at Meany Theater. The evening opened with a genre of aristocratic sung poetry first developed in the mid-19 th century, then moved to a small ensemble of kacapi and suling (bamboo flute), followed by pieces for the gamelan degung (a type of gamelan from West Java) and a contemporary piece Ade composed in 2005. The latter was performed by a small ensemble featuring kacapi, violin, and requinto (small Spanish guitar). The unexpected combination of Sundanese and Western instruments underscored Ade’s fertile imagination and his skill as a musician in weaving diverse influences into a fluid harmony. The evening’s selections provided what one of the student-musicians termed a “holistic view” of Sundanese music. Ade’s original composition demonstrates its continuing dynamism.

Students performed with Nurrika in the Gaplek Dance, a comedic portrayal of male dancers unsuccessfully vying for the attention of a femme fatale in a series of contests intended to trumpet their appeal. In the end, the object of their desire was beguiled not by their prowess but their cash. Not to be outdone by their male counterparts, in Tari Merak (Peacock Dance) six of the female student dancers wowed the audience in stunning, jewel-tone costumes with elaborate headdresses resembling the head of a peacock. Their movements were graceful and fleet—like those of their avian inspiration. At some points the dancers paused to execute the refined arm and neck movements characteristic of traditional dance forms from Java and Bali, but even then the tempo remained rapidly modern. The dancers swept across the stage in time to Ade’s drumming pattern which set the pace for the student-musicians’ accompaniment on gamelan salendro.

nurrika and dancers

Nurrika (3rd from right) with her student dancers in costumes brought from Bandung, Java especially for Tari Merak.

Just as the student performers gained from the experience in personal ways, Ade and Nurrika made new friendships and strengthened existing relationships. The connection between the two artists and UW was formed in 2009 when Tikka Sears, then the Outreach Coordinator for the Southeast Asia Center, met them at a music and dance workshop in Bali. The workshop was sponsored by the Center for World Music which brought Ade to San Diego in 2012 to teach suling to children in the public schools. Taking advantage of his presence on the west coast, Sears and UW associate professor of Ethnomusicology Christina Sunardi arranged a two-week residency at UW afterwards. It was such a success that Sunardi and Sears spearheaded cooperation between the School of Music and the Center to design the quarter-long residency this year, offering students greater exposure to Sundanese music and adding instruction in dance.

Ade, who teaches and performs around the world, has a special affinity for Seattle not only because of his friendships here but also because of its musical heritage. Interviewed shortly after the Meany Theater performance, he was enthusiastic about the wealth of opportunities for cultural interchange. As an example of what can be discovered in our own backyard, he praised area thrift stores as his favorite places to visit: in one he found a lacquered flute from China; in another, a beginner’s hammered dulcimer along with notated songsheets to slip under the strings. Holding up the flute to demonstrate its sound, Ade first apologized for his lack of experience with the instrument and then played a perfectly-executed short riff. The plaintive melody evoked the suling but the notes themselves were more punctuated. In that short passage, Ade revealed the surprising range of possibility open to those who welcome inspiration from all quarters. In addition to providing inspiration to his students here, he also took some home: the written notation for hammered dulcimer gave him an idea about devising a notational method for teaching children kacapi back in Bandung.

We hope that this article got you excited for future events to be hosted this year by the Southeast Asia Center.