Towards a Humane Activist Approach in the Study of Music and the Performing Arts

Prof. Dr. Tan Sooi Beng
School of the Arts
Universiti Sains Malaysia

In many music and performing arts academies, the researcher is trained to be a detached neutral observer who is expected to be objective in the process of collecting data, analysis, and writing. The arts and music are treated like objects to be observed, recorded, transcribed, analyzed, classified, and described. However, the arts and music are social products that do not exist in a political or cultural void. Consequently, there has been a call for a more humance approach that includes experiencing the music and cultures of the people and the use of the arts for the betterment society. Based on ongoing dialogues among academics and fieldwork in Malaysia, this paper illusrates how the performing arts and music can help to bring about social change in society, particularly in promoting cultural sustainability and bridging ethnic and cultural gaps. I argue for an alternative activist research methodology that emphasizes dialogue, collaboration, and participation of the communities in the whole planning documentation process, and addressing the socio-political concerns of the communities so that their cultures can further develop. Through the participatory methods devised, the communities will gain a sense of ownership of the processes of documenting and sustaining their traditions, crossing cultural boundaries, and be empowered to do so. This type of research methodology would require researchers to reflect on their positionality and backgrounds, which influence the framing of their research projects. This bottom-up approach also calls for the re-localization of learning and teaching of the performing arts and music so as to indigenize knowledge-making and dissemination. The people-centered research approach strives for more horizontal and equal relations between the researcher and the research subjects and emphasizes the voices of the communities.


Tan Sooi Beng is Professor of Ethnomusicology at the School of Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. She is the author of Bangsawan: A Social and Stylistic History of Popular Malay Opera (Oxford University Press, 1993), and co-author of Music of Malaysia: Classical, Folk and Syncretic Traditions (Ashgate Press, 2004) and Longing for the Past, the 78 RPM Era in Southeast Asia (Dust-to-Digital 2013), which won the joint SEM Bruno Nettl Prize, 2014. Tan is the Editor-in-Chief of Wacana Seni, Journal of Arts Discource, serves in the Advisory Editorial Boards of Asian Music (USA) and Ethnomusicology Forum (UK), and is an elected member of the executive board of International Council of Traditional Music (ICTM). She has written textbooks on Malaysian music for the schools and universities in the country.  Tan is a keen exponent of engaged community theatre for young people and has developed methodologies for collaborative research and music making. She is currently attempting to revitalize the potehi glove puppet theare of Penang through documentation and the training of young apprentices using the activist collaborative approach.

The Traditional Court Dances of Pura Pakualaman: Facing the Era of Globalisation

Professor A.M. Hermien Kusmayati
Institut Seni Indonesia, Yogyakarta

Pura Pakualaman is one of the palaces in Java located in the Yogyakarta Special Region. In this palace, various dances are performed by men and women. The court dances of Pakualaman are organised by Langenpraja organisation, which means court entertainment. Dances with gamelan are practiced in the afternoon every Monday and Thursday. There is no practice and performance during the fasting month. A dance is always performed in the coronation of Prince Paku Alam. Court dances are performed at least twice a year. First on the birthday of Prince Paku Alam. Second, during the Idul Fitri reception. Sometimes the dances are performed on the birthday celebration of Prophet Muhammad, during the wedding ceremonies of Pakualaman family members, and to entertain special guests in the palace. The dancers are the members of Langenpraja organisation. In this keynote, I discuss the traditional dances of Pura Pakualaman from the past and present. Although many modern and contemporary dances are rapidly developing, the traditional court dances of Pura Pakualaman still continue to be performed. They do not 'surrender' or 'lose' when challenged by modern and contemporary dances that utilise various technologies in their performances. Today, many young people still practice and perform the Pura Pakualaman dances. I argue that the learning strategy used in the performances is the key toward the sustainability of the traditional court dances.


She is a senior lecturer of The Dance Department, Faculty of Performing Arts, Indonesia Institute of the Arts Yogyakarta (ISI Yogyakarta). She was born 64 years ago in Bondowoso, i.e. a small city at east Java. She earned her Bachelor's degree at Indonesia Academy of the Dance Yogyakarta (1980), M.A. (1998) and Ph.D (1999) in Arts Humanities Faculty Gadjah Mada University. She has great interest and passion in learning and choreographing Javanese traditional dances, especially Pura Pakualaman court dances at Yogyakarta Special Region. Since 1999 she has been rsponsible for teaching and preserving female dances in this court, together with her husband who has held the same responsibility for male dances. Her choreography entitled Bedhaya Angronakung was performed at the coronation of Prince Paku Alam IX (1998) and Prince Paku Alam X (2016). Since August 2016 she has been one of the eight counselors in the field of culture of Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X as the Governor of Yogyakarta Special Region.