The Jakarta Post
Bringing the colors: The piano recital is held alongside a painting exhibition by artists with mental and physical disabilities from the Art Brut Indonesia Foundation and Yayasan Daya Pelita Kasih. (JP/Frans Snackers)
Pianist and composer Ananda Sukarlan wasted no time, immediately striking the ivories after walking onto the stage at the ballroom of JS Luwansa Hotel in South Jakarta early this month. The first piece of his Differences Unite concert was a creative take on the song “Indonesia Pusaka”.
The concert’s theme focused on people with disabilities, both mental and physical. Diagnosed with Tourette’s and Asperger’s himself, Ananda is a prime example of a person who has not been held back by his shortcomings.
In fact, Ananda is adamant that it is his disabilities that have allowed him to become the accomplished composer he is today. He explains that because of his Asperger’s syndrome, the cells in his brain are not evenly distributed.
“In my case, it is all crumpled into the musical part. I cannot tie my shoes because a part of the brain doesn’t allow me to. I cannot drive because a part of the brain does not function.”
Following the opening piece, he thanked the audience for coming. Then, after jokingly warning the audience not to walk out of the room or else suffer the consequences, Ananda introduced two young guest performers, both of whom are on the autism spectrum. Steven, one of the performers, joined him for the second piece of the concert.
There was not a whisper in the audience when Steven sat down quietly and stoically before playing JS Bach’s “Invention #8”.
Both of the guest performers were selected after taking part in Ananda’s international piano competition. For the past two years, the competition has included a category for children with mental disabilities.
After Steven dutifully bowed and left the stage, Ananda himself continued with an interpretation of children’s song “Balonku Ada Lima” (My Five Balloons). In the middle of the song, he cheekily banged his elbows on the piano.
“One of them exploded,” he said, grinning.
Ananda then addressed the audience in a more serious tone when he explained his “dif-ability” concept. He says he likes the term, which is short for different ability, because it more accurately describes musicians like himself.
Thoughtful rendition: Pianist and composer Ananda Sukarlan gives a piano recital titled Differences Unite at JS Luwansa Hotel in South Jakarta on March 5. (JP/Frans Snackers)
To that effect, years ago, he participated in a project that aimed to make music more accessible to people with physical disabilities by making the piano more accessible to those for whom it was not designed for. However, he felt the resulting musical pieces were too easy. To provide a challenge for those who can only play with their left hand, Ananda composed “Rapsodia #15”.
“[...] But with your eyes closed, you should not be able to hear that this music is played with just one hand.”
Nobody in the audience had their eyes closed during the entire piece; everyone felt the need to check whether Ananda was using both hands.
Next, he played “Lonely Child” and “Rapsodia Nusantara #16” before introducing Basmarrahman, the second guest performer, to the stage.
Basmarrahman, who is on the autism spectrum and also suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, played the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” in lieu of Ananda’s own play on the sonata, which will premiere later in South Korea.
Following Basmarrahman’s rendition, Ananda geared up for his finale, which was dedicated to his mother and to former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who served as its inspiration.
The song, “Ambilkan Bulan, Bu, Untuk Menerangi Jakarta” (Bring me the Moon, Mom, to Illuminate Jakarta), a unique interpretation of AT Mahmud’s “Ambilkan Bulan, Bu”, received a standing ovation.
The concert was as much a showcase of inclusivity as it was a running commentary on current events in which Ananda had his own fair share of attention. The musician was in the spotlight on social media after he walked out during a speech delivered by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan at a Canisius College anniversary event last year.
As he prepared to give an encore by playing his “Rapsodia Nusantara #8”, Ananda spotted some attendees leaving and so he threw out a joke.
“You are walking out! Is there a reporter here? Somebody is walking out!”
The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post