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Musicking in Indonesia: "Discovering Unity in Diversity"

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

Indonesia is home to more than 1300 ethnic groups. With this monumental amount of diversity comes a sense of pride and the challenge to unite at the same time. One thing that most of these ethnic groups have in common is the use of music as a part of their religious and cultural rituals. It is fair to say that in an attempt to find a silver lining in this diversity, we found music. Music and singing are ways for Indonesians to connect with each other within a community, to convey their gratitude and wishes to the gods, and to showcase the expressivity and diversity within cultural groups. The questions are: Have the Indonesians realized how essential music is to their life? How can Indonesian music therapists effectively advocate to this incredibly diverse group of people and cater to each of their cultures and values?

Music Therapy in Indonesia

Music therapy was introduced to the Indonesian community through the start of the music therapy concentration at Universitas Pelita Harapan Conservatory of Music in 2007 by Amelia Delfina Kho. The music therapy concentration is currently a part of the Bachelor of Arts in music program. We have had a fluctuating number of students every year and we now have more than 40 graduates, and 20 students in the program at the time of this article being written. We also have 5 master graduates who attained their degree and certification overseas (Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, United States, and Philippines).

Out of those 45 graduates, approximately 10 people are currently actively practicing as a music therapist and all of them are centered in Jakarta and its greater area.

The main work settings for music therapists in Indonesia are schools and long-term care facilities, but we now have one music therapist that works full-time in a local hospital. As of now, Indonesia does not have an association for music therapists.

Massive Diversity: A Blessing or a Curse?

Indonesia is a maritime country comprised of more than 17,000 islands, more than 1300 ethnic groups, 6 acknowledged religions, and 718 languages. All of these ethnic groups are distinctly different from each other. Being a maritime country with thousands of islands (and possibly more to discover), Indonesia has been facing a challenge of inter-connectivity for many years. Connecting the lands through infrastructure development and connecting within ethnic groups -- each with distinctly different personalities and characters -- is a challenging task. “The people’s beliefs in God” is one of the country’s 5 foundational philosophy. That is why we also cannot disregard how each acknowledged religion brings its own uniqueness and contribution to the community. Each religion has their own stance on what music is and how it should be utilized, and this can sometimes complicate advocating for music therapy.

The Indonesian music therapy community is still young. At this stage, it is important to be effective and precise in our advocacy. Understanding the different views of each culture and beliefs that exist in Indonesia, or at least the major ones, is one of the things we can do.

That is understanding the people’s prior knowledge of the use of music, and adding more knowledge on how music can be more impactful for their wellness. It takes an extensive knowledge on Indonesian diversity, a fair amount of flexibility and adaptability, and compassion and understandings to be able to tolerate these differences. This is what we are trying to practice as Indonesian music therapists, so that the knowledge and awareness of music and wellness is spread across the many lands of Indonesia.

From the North Sumatran ritual Sipaha Lima on the western side of Indonesia to the Papuan Wor ceremony on the eastern side of Indonesia, music and singing play important roles in Indonesian ethnic groups’ religious and cultural ceremonies and rituals. When we think about it, it has a similar concept to clinical improvisation and singing in music therapy. In which music is a medium for communication, expression, reflection, and relationship. It is just done with different language, different purpose, and events.

At the end, despite the challenge, I am faithful that Indonesians can all agree on one thing: music is at the core of our life, because just like what the people of Papua would say in their own language, “Ngo Wor Ba Ido Neri Ngo Mar” – “If we don’t ‘sing’, we will ‘die’.”

Without music and singing, we won’t be able to hear the people’s voice, and the soul of many Indonesian cultures will perish.

Writer’s Bio:

Kezia Putri graduated with Bachelor of Arts in music with music therapy concentration from Universitas Pelita Harapan, Indonesia in 2016. In 2019 she attained her Master of Music Therapy degree from Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada and following the graduation, she also passed the MT-BC examination and became accredited with the CAMT as well. During her study she mainly worked with adults and seniors in long-term care facility, as well as mental health facility. She is currently a lecturer and the coordinator for music therapy program at Universitas Pelita Harapan, Indonesia.

IG: @kez_k_ptr

UPH Conservatory of Music:

IG: @uphmusic



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