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Taiwan's NCNU hosts Indonesian maestros of Gamelan ensemble music

sTo incorporate the central government’s New Southbound Policy with the Ministry of Education's Higher Education Sprout Program, National Chi Nan University held a week-long campus program on the Gamelan — the traditional ensemble music of the Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese in Indonesia — to help students and community members learn through two cultural forums and six music workshops in December.

The program was delighted to host Dr. I Gusti Putu Sudarta, the most-respected Gamelan artist, composer, choreographer, and shadow puppeteer in Bali and a theater professor with the Indonesian Institute of the Arts, Denpasar (ISI, Denpasar). Using music as a conduit, the three workshops chaired by Dr. Sudarta illuminated how Balinese is both a language and an identity that is that intertwined with the lives, social structure, and art of the people of Bali.

In the first lecture titled “Ritualistic Expressions of the Arts: Balinese Hindu Faith and Puppet Theater,” Dr. Sudarta explained how religious faith is encapsulated by the traditional theatrical practices of Bali.

The Gamelan workshops were co-organized by three universities in a show of the friendship shared among NCNU’s Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Musicology, and Taipei National University of the Arts’ School of Music Department of Traditional Music.

The Gamelan ensemble has been passed down for almost a thousand years, and each set of instruments can take up to eight hours to tune. Upon a joint invitation from the three universities, Gamelan artist and instrument tuner I Gede Nadiarta held workshops at NCNU to teach the fine art of tuning traditional Indonesian musical tools in a showcase of the historic legacy and the uniqueness of this Balinese music.

Mrs. Sudarta, who is originally from Taiwan, returned not only to serve as the interpreter at her husband’s events, but also to chair a lecture titled “A Transnational Union: A Taiwanese Woman in Bali” at the ASEAN Square on Luchuan West Street in Taichung City.

Mrs. Sudarta began by sharing the start of her journey as an independent woman who uprooted her life in Taiwan for love. Her life in the traditionally ritualistic Balinese society as a foreign spouse, however, was entangled with multiple identities and cultural expectations. She became assistant, manager, and interpreter to support her husband’s artistic career, all while becoming a stranger in her homeland Taiwan despite the frequent visits.

Her presentation was accompanied by a discussion with audience members and panelists Lee Ching-huei (李婧慧), associate professor with the TNUA School of Music, and Lee Mei-hsien (李美賢), a professor of the NCNU Department of Southeast Asian Studies. Participants were equally engaged in the crafts workshop that followed, in which traditional Balinese religious offerings were replicated in exceeding detail.

NCNU is grateful for the opportunity to bridge cultural barriers and promote discussion over language, faith, and gender issues. Each session was full of students and members of the general public who came with a thirst for more knowledge pertaining to Southeast Asian cultures.

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