Thu, 19 Sep 2002

Islamic touch in Trisutji's music

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

As a child, she knew she was blessed with music talent, a prowess that she sharpened during her teenage years.

Her toil and determination paid. Now, Trisutji Kamal has made a name for herself as a pianist and composer of both national and international classical music scenes.

"I have composed music since I was seven. I remembered playing my own compositions for my mother.

"It was a long time ago. Now, those compositions were lost because I didn't write them down. I was just a child and didn't know how to write," Trisutji recalled, smiling.

She inherited the talent from her father, Djulham Surjowidjojo, a medical doctor and a violinist but it was her mother, BRE Nedima Kusmarkiah, who taught her discipline in pursuing music.

"My strict father often criticized me. As a little girl, I would take the criticism as a verbal attack. So when I played for my mother I didn't even want my father to hear it. It was she who encouraged me to practice and practice," Trisutji said.

Trisutji was raised in Javanese tradition and her mother often made her wear traditional Javanese attire, kebaya. "She wanted me to get used to wearing kebaya... and never forget the (Javanese culture) root," she said.

Trisutji spent most of her childhood in North Sumatra, where she lived in a heterogeneous culture but mainly Islamic society. The way she was brought up was deeply internalized in her and it was often reflected in her works, in the form of pentatonic Javanese and Islamic influence.

"I was also fascinated with Italian Bel Canto (a style of singing characterized by brilliant vocal and purity of tone). In my operas, the Bel Canto style shows ... but the pentatonic Javanese also exists."

Apart from music, she also loves to paint and cook, which she does in her spare time. Both cooking and painting, she said, are very much like composing music.

"When I was studying music abroad, I also hoped I could learn painting but it wasn't possible so I concentrated on music," she laughed.

She feels lucky to have the opportunity to have had Leurene Remmert as her piano teacher. It was Remmert who advised her to study music at Amsterdam Conservatory where she was taught by well-known composer Henk Badings.

Several months after finishing her study there, she went to France to further study at Ecole Normale de Musique, in Paris, just when the city was hit by the worst winter in 50 years.

"In the first few days of winter, I remembered opening my window and saw Paris all white, covered in snow. It was beautiful but I could not stand the cold and got sick all the time," she recalled.

The cold and the poor health, though, failed to dampen her spirits. She looked for a piano rental to pursue her study but it did not last long as she could not stand the cold. So she returned to Holland and eventually moved to Rome where she finished her studies at Conservatory of Santa Cecilia, in 1967.

During her studies in Europe, Trisutji performed some of her compositions, such as Hujan (Rain) in Vienna, 1964, Sungai (River) in Moscow, 1963 and Api (Fire) in Praha 1964. Her opera Loro Jonggrang (Folk songs) was performed at the Castel Saint Angelo, Rome, in 1957.

After returning to Indonesia, Trisutji created songs for radio stations and compositions for noted writers and film directors like among other Sjuman Djaja, Asrul Sani, Motinggo Busye and Soekarno M. Noor.

"My first film was directed by Asrul Sani. I didn't have any experience (writing soundtracks) but had to work with famous writers. I was later introduced to people in the film industry," she said.

"Back then, the national music scene was not as developed as it is now so the government encouraged its development," said the composer.

Just recently, Trisutji launched three books on her compositions, namely Younger Years Selected Compositions (a compilation of 10 compositions created between 1950 and 1955), including Tarian Fantasi (Fantasy Dance), Nyanyian (Song), and Serenada Seorang Pengemis (Beggar's Serenade); Indonesian Folk Melodies (consisting of 26 compositions) and Sunda Seascapes (comprises seven compositions, inspired by the beauty of nature in Anyer on the western tip of Java, where she spent much of her time in 1990).

Upon realizing that Indonesia still lacked groups to represent Indonesia in international forums she then established the Trisutji Kamal Ensemble in 1994.

"I wanted to introduce the country to the world through music. That's why I formed the ensemble, which is also a vehicle to enable me to create unique compositions to be performed abroad," she said.

Financial limitations did not stop her to develop the ensemble and seized every opportunity to perform abroad. One of those opportunities was the meeting of Indonesian Ambassadors in Jakarta, March, 1994. Trisutji introduced the ensemble to some of the Indonesian Ambassadors and they were interested in helping. Now the ensemble has performed in several European countries.

Each performance is memorable for Trisutji, but the most was her solo performance in Hungary, 1993, playing her Islam-inspired compositions, Penghayatan Bulan Suci (Treasuring the Holy Month), consisting of Ramadhan, Malam Takbir (Idul Fitri Eve) and Idul Fitri compositions. "It was nice to know that the audience could feel and appreciate the spiritual nuance in them," she explained.