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A symphony of Indonesian love 

Not all festschrifts travel well.  Sometimes the contributors veer away from the subject, driving in another direction in search of their own interests.

Though not with this beautiful book where even the format and design pays tribute to a remarkable musician, photographer, entrepreneur, teacher, song-catcher and above all lover of Indonesia, its people and Music.

Jack! celebrates the life of the New Zealand composer Jack Body, ‘his endless musical curiosity’ and ‘love of life’s complexities’.

He died earlier this year shortly after the book was completed and he’d been named a NZ Arts Icon, the nation’s highest arts award and the first composer to be recognized.   

Although the writers knew Body was ill and that the cancer he thought he’d defeated was galloping back, Jack! is seldom maudlin or clogged by irrelevant minutia.

Its one hundred contributors record a life well lived and where the subject was still thinking of compositions to come ‘about what the earth taught me, what the plants said, what the birds said.’  

In it Body talks in interviews about ‘discovering a new sensuality’ in Indonesia where he taught at the Akademi Musik Indonesia. He also found the love of his life, Yono Soekarno.  They lived together till Body died.

‘We met in the Yogyakarta Post Office on Boxing Day in 1976 …[Body had been recording street musicians in the city].  He is beautiful even though he is no longer the dazzling youth I first met.  Oh my God, was I the envy of all, male and female to have such a beautiful and desirable companion!

‘And the miracle of it all is that he loved unlovable me!  I like to point out to the young that love is something that is learned, something that grows with time.  Yono taught me how to love.’

One of the many photos shows Body and Soekarno together shortly after they became a unit, two handsome young men smiling and joyful, as are almost all the pictures. For Body had an orchestra of friends drawn by his cheerful humility and unqualified commitment to music – and the gamelan in particular.

Among his friends were the three women who edited this book – Gillian Whitehead, Scilla Askew and Jennifer Shennan who writes about Body’s ‘inclusive personality and joie de vivre …a low tolerance for boredom, cliché and comfort zones’.

John Stanley [Jack] Body was born in 1944 in Te Aroha, a dairy town in NZ’s North Island.  His father had a small farm and also worked as an earthmoving contractor. 

Though his Dad ‘never really understood my interest in music … [he] certainly didn’t stand in my way’. Body’s parents must have been farsighted because in those days rural NZ was a masculine place where boys played rugby in the mud, swilled beer and prided themselves on their toughness. 

Despite this young Jack was taught the piano and sent to board at the prestigious King’s College in Auckland where his artistic talents were nurtured.

In his final year he garnered a group of friends for a performance of Haydn’s [or maybe Leopold Mozart’s] Toy Symphony. This work with its disputed authorship includes birdsong and a cornucopia of sounds from toy trumpets, whistles and other instruments. 

It was a sign of things to come; apart from his organisational skills and ability to attract support for projects he developed an ear for the natural and human-made noises of the world, particularly in Indonesia, and incorporated them in his compositions.

At Auckland University he graduated in music and then completed a master’s degree studying composition and teaching.

He went to Europe on a NZ grant to study at Cologne and Utrecht.  On his slow way home overland he diverted through Indonesia and his life’s direction was set.

‘The experience of living in Indonesia and of being in a different culture, having to learn the language, hearing the sounds around me, not only the musics but the environment … that gave me a very rich resource.

‘Indonesia was a total environment; it was the weather, the food, the friendships.  I would say also the sensuality.’

In the NZ capital of Wellington where Body eventually became a professor at the School of Music on the campus of Victoria University, there was a gamelan. 

It had been donated in 1973 through the President’s wife Tien Soeharto after formal relationships were established between the two nations.  Instead of gathering dust in a storeroom, where such government gifts are often abandoned, under Body’s leadership the gongs, drums and metallophones have become a key component of Wellington’s music, training hundreds of students and exciting many to study in Indonesia.

It remains one of the better-known ensembles in the city, regularly playing in locations as diverse at Parliament House, churches and concert halls. In a music environment dominated by European traditions, the gamelan offers a splendid alternative and a prelude to exploring the nation’s nearest Asian neighbor.

The NZ players will tour Java next year. Since 1996 Embassy employee and local resident Budi Putra has been the gamelan’s musical director bonding the orchestra with its roots.

The gamelan is not the only enduring legacy of Body’s involvement with Asia.  He also became enchanted by the music of Cambodia and China where he collaborated with the Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra,

When funds could not be found to bring composers and musicians from Indonesia and other Asian countries to NZ, Brady used his own funds, as he did with the Asia Pacific Festivals.

There are several Indonesian contributors to Jack! thankful that their horizons have been expanded through one man’s credo:  Music is the universal language that moves through political, geographical and ethnic obstacles as though these barriers don’t exist.

This book is a primer on how individuals can make a difference in cross-cultural relationships.

Jack! edited by Jennifer Shennan, Gillian Whitehead and Scilla Askew
Published by Steele Roberts, 2015    256 pages

(First published in The Jakarta Post 4 April 2016)

This post first appeared on INDONESIA NOW With Duncan Graham, please read the originial post: here

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