Wed, 10 Aug 1994

Violinist Idris Sardi: Discipline, awareness, farewell

By Lenah Susianty

JAKARTA (JP): In Indonesia's music world, violin means Idris Sardi. Ask people on the street to name an Indonesian violinist and Idris Sardi will top the list.

"Idris Sardi and the violin have blended together and become an image," said Suka Hardjana a musician and music observer who prefers to put "jobless" as his profession on his card.

"Usually, instrumentalists do not have such a place in the music world here, but Idris is a different phenomenon. It could be his 'border crossing' musical philosophy," Suka said in a booklet entitled Idris Sardi, an episode of an artist published in conjunction with a concert to spotlight Idris' dedication and role in Indonesian music held at Puri Agung Hall in the Sahid Jaya hotel yesterday.

Border crossing means that Idris is not a fanatic who keeps playing one kind of music and ignores others.

"I play everything, keroncong, dangdut, Indonesian traditional music, jazz, rock, everything," Idris said in a press conference held recently in conjunction with the concert.

At the very young age of 5, Idris, who was born on June 7, 1938, was taught classical music in a very disciplined manner by his violist father Mas Sardi.

Each time little Idris broke a rule, his father slapped him or shouted at him. The rules required that he be serious, on time, clean, neat, honest and diligent.

When he was only seven, everything was centered around his violin, with an hour of practice in the morning before going to school, another two hours in the afternoon after school and then another in the evening. The little boy did not have any time to play.

"My father was not only strict about those things, but later when I was older, he also forbade me from drinking, gambling and chasing women," Idris said, adding that his father's spartan teachings had made him a very disciplined person.

The young arranger and conductor of the Twilite Orchestra, Addie M.S., who considers Idris as one of his teachers in orchestration and music arrangement, confirmed this, saying that Idris is so disciplined that sometimes he is not flexible.

"Idris is always on time and does not tolerate those who are late," Addie told The Jakarta Post.

Russian teacher

Idris Sardi's second music teacher was a Russian named Nicolai Varvolomijeff. The Russian, who was previously a member of the Tsar Philharmonic Orchestra, fled to Indonesia on the brink of the 1918 October revolution.

His first meeting with little Idris touched Varvolomijeff so deeply that he willingly adopted Idris as his student for free.

"My father paid him, but he returned the money in the form of music books," Idris said, recalling Varvolomijeff's soft and gentle character which impressed him a lot.

Totally different from Idris' father, Varvolomijeff taught the violinist with patience and affection. He corrected Idris' mistakes by saying softly "God will be angry".

The close relation between Idris and the Russian resulted in Idris' move to Yogyakarta where Varvolomijeff opened the so called first Indonesian Music School. Idris was only 12 years old.

Among Idris' schoolmates at the music school were boys which are now well known in the Indonesian music world, including Slamet Abdul Syukur, Paul Gutama Soegijo, F.X. Soetopo and F.A.Warsono.

Learning at a school, where the teachers understood music well, shaped and polished Idris' talent. During this period, Idris was also trusted to play Radio Republic Indonesia's opening score. There was no recording stem at that time, so at six every morning Idris had to play Antonin Dvorak's Humoresque.

The pinnacle of this period of learning was when Idris played Beethoven's Romance in G and Henryk Wieniawski's Legendeat a concert of the Indonesian Music School Symphony Orchestra, attended by Sardi senior.

"You played very well, maybe better than me. But there is still a long way to go, I will send you to Vienna in 1955," Mas Sardi told his son.

They turned out to be Mas Sardi's last words to his son and the promise was not fulfilled. Sardi senior died, leaving behind his seven children, a pregnant actress-wife Hadidjah and an ill mother.

Idris, the oldest, immediately joined the Jakarta Studio Orchestra to earn money to support his family.

"I consider it as the first step in my career development. At that time, I was appointed as concert master and was the youngest concert master they ever had," Idris said, adding that it was 1954 and he was only 16 years old.

Idris was first introduce to music outside classical pieces in the same year.

"And then I realized that my classical music background only helped me to know how to play other music technically. But it did not provide me with the feeling and the soul of other music such as keroncong and dangdut that I needed," he said.


Idris left classical music totally in 1955 and has since stuck to the entertainment line. In the sixties, his most successful time, he started playing Helmut Zacharias' chart topping songs and earned himself the reputation as Indonesia's Zacharias.

The imitation of Zacharias' techniques is the basis of Idris' style, "but, he has also developed this technique by exaggerating the vibrations. Therefore people can tell which one belongs to Zacharias and which one to Idris," Suka explained.

Idris' compositions are also special because of their orchestral and instrumental forms, with violin as their primasolist, he added.

During the sixties, Idris, in cooperation with singer Lilis Suryani, presented Indonesian traditional songs accompanied by a big orchestra. It was the first time that traditional music had been treated this way so his arrangements, such as Jali-jali, Es lilin, Teungteuingeun, became hits.

Idris also started composing music scores for films. Pesta Musik la Bana (La Bana musical party) was his first composition in 1960.

Today, there are 180 film scores, 10 of which have earned Citra awards, the highest movie award in the Indonesian, for best film music score. He has also attained international awards, including at the 1970 Asian Film Festival for the score to the film Bernafas Dalam Lumpur (Breathing in a Swamp).

"Idris' scores are considered by some people as too sweet and sentimental," Suka said, "But that is not absolutely true, because he treats the music not only as an illustration, but also to enliven and interpret the film."

However, Suka acknowledged that melodramatic and romantic films are Idris' specialization.


Discipline seems to be Idris' obsession as well. In a press conference early of this week, he announced that yesterday's concert, organized by the Kompas daily, was his last because of the lack of professionalism among Indonesian orchestral musicians.

"Our musicians lack discipline and professionalism," Idris said, "Some of them are always late for rehearsals, some of them do not come at all, some of them come only to the last rehearsal. Technically they are all right, they can play, but there is something missing. They play without feeling and music is not only technique but also feeling."

He said at first he tried to ignore this, but gradually he felt guilty.

"I am responsible for everything I give to the public, because it is the public who made me what I am today. I tried to make them aware, but it seems useless," he said, adding that leaving show business would be best for him.

"Idris is always serious about music. That is why I understand his choice and we are already prepared to face any risk," Idris' actress and singer wife Marini told the Post, adding that her husband will not totally leave the music world.

As if to convince the public of their vow, Marini and Idris launched a music agency called Griya Artissa recently.

However, Addie said that Idris' withdrawal from the Indonesian music world will be a great loss to the country.

"Especially since our music is still far behind, we have a lot of things to do to develop our music. We still need Idris Sardi," Addie said, in deep regret.