KRT Wasitodiningrat

K.R.T. Wasitodiningrat has been acknowledged as one of the best gamelan musicians of his generation; he has even been described as the single most influential gamelan composer in Java during the last half of the 20th century. His works have become models of excellence and are broadly performed throughout Java as well as in other locations around the world where Javanese music is studied and played, particularly in Japan, Europe, and The United States. (Bagong Kussudiardja and Suharjo Rahman, July 28, 1993) Unlike most Javanese musicians (of his time or even of today), he is a completely well-rounded Javanese musician. He is accomplished on all of the instruments of the gamelan, he is intimately conversant with the classical gamelan repertoire, he has a highly acclaimed sense of garap (treatment of a piece), he is an expert on Javanese vocal music, and he is a trained and versatile dancer. (Sudarto, August 9, 1994)

Wasitodiningrat is affectionately known as Pak Cokro by his family, friends, and students, and which I will henceforth refer to him as. Originally named Wasi Jolodoro, he was born on March 17th, 1909 at Gunung Ketur, a small community where he was raised, near the royal court palace (Pakualaman) in Yogyakarta, Java. He was born into a family from a long line of great musicians and dancers who devoted their life to the glories of the Central Javanese performing arts tradition. In fact, his family has been associated with the Pakualaman court as far back as his great-great-grandfather, who was also a distinguished musician. His great grandfather, was a dancer and teacher who was responsible for creating four famous dance choreographies to the Mangkunegaran court during the reign of Mangkunegara IV (1818-1881). His grandfather and father were both musicians. His father, held the highly prestigious position as the leader of the court musicians in the Pakualaman Palace, and his mother was a court dancer and singer.

His parents divorced when he was five, and he was raised mostly by his father. His only sister lived with their mother in Jakarta, while he stayed with his father in Yogyakarta. Growing up, he was very poor, and he and his father had to struggle to make ends meet. Consequently, his formal education was limited, and he was only able to finish grade school. He started working when he was fourteen.

His study of Javanese music and dance began at the age of five. He studied gamelan with his father, the singing of sekar agengs ( songs written in the old Javanese language), dance, and Javanese mysticism (ilmu kebatinan) with other master teachers in the court. He made his debut as a professional performer of gamelan in 1922, and by 1925 he served as an official member of the very prestigious court musicians of the Pakualaman Palace. Eventually by 1962, Pak Cokro was promoted to the position of Director of the Court Gamelan, where he was responsible for carrying on the impressive tradition of classical gamelan music and dance which had flourished in the court for centuries. In 1928, he finally landed a lucrative job as a cashier at a Dutch owned sugar factory. While working at the factory, he enrolled in a business course, after which he was able to work at the Office of Finance in the Sultan's Palace. But by 1932 he was ordered back to the Pakualaman court to serve as a court official, affiliated with cultural events, and as a court librarian. He also earned the distinction of Teacher Status that year, and taught gamelan music to one hundred school children from sixth to twelveth grade, at the Pakualaman. For his distinguished service at the court, the Paku Alam VII (the reigning sultan at the time) bestowed upon him, the dignified honorary title of R.B. (Raden Bekel) Cokrowasito (advisor to the king). Thus the nickname Pak (father or mister) Cokro.

From that time on, Pak Cokro, seriously pursued a career as a full-time gamelan musician. In the early 1930s, which was considered a new era for radio in Indonesia, he started experimenting with broadcasting gamelan music over public radio in Yogyakarta. His experiments were so successful that in 1934 his gamelan group, Mardiwiromo, which he had formed mostly from the Pakualaman's musicians, initiated a series of radio programs for Radio Amateur (non-governmental radio). These radio performances were broadcast live, and have since become a tradition of Java, encompassing gamelan groups from other royal courts of Central Java. This new phenomenon of broadcasting live gamelan music on radio, had an extraordinary impact on the public. It was the first time many people heard traditional court music, especially from different regions. Pak Cokro is almost single handedly responsible for initially exposing the common Javanese people to their very rich culture of gamelan court music.

When he was twenty-four, he decided to start a family, and on August 7, 1933 he married his first wife, Musanih. They had nine children, three daughters, four sons, and two adopted daughters. Nanik Wenten is his fourth child from this marriage. On September 9, 1950, he married his second wife, Nyi Pradoposari, who had seven more children, two daughters and five sons.

1936 marks the year that Pak Cokro was officially recognized as a composer of gamelan music. Since then, he has composed hundreds of works, many of which received prestigious awards and honors. As he grew older, he continued to write fresher, more profound compositions -veritable masterpieces that were subsequently received with great praise and critical acclaim. (Bagong Kussudiardja, July 15, 1993). Part of their popularity, no doubt, is due to their cogent and timely song texts, many of which allude to the social and political concerns of modern Indonesia. Some examples are: his 1953 composition,Sopir Becak(Rickshaw Driver) deals sympathetically with the plight of Javanese becak (bicycle taxi) drivers, a grueling job that involves overwhelming physical effort, long hours, and very little money; Kuwi Apa Kuwi (What is That?) from 1960 is particularly concerned with the problem of corruption in the government; Keluarga Berencana (Family Planning) of 1963 deals with the serious problem of overpopulation; Moderniasasi Desa (Modernized Village) of 1964 is concerned with the economic and cultural development in rural areas; Nekolim (Neo-colonialism) also from 1964, deals with a dispute over the Northern part of Kalimantan (northern part of the island of Borneo) which was claimed by both the Indonesian and the Malaysian governments; and Lancaran Penghijauan (Making it Green) informs the general public of the importance of replanting trees to avoid deforestation.

As a composer of dance music, Pak Cokro was instrumental in the creation of the first production of the Sendratari Ramayana (Ramayana Dance Drama). The term sendratari refers to an integrated music, dance, and theater form. The first sendratari production based on the Ramayana epic was performed in 1961 at the outdoor amphitheater of the great 10th-century Hindu temple complex, the Prambanan. Performances of Sendratari Ramayana are still held every dry season from June through October, during each full moon, at the Prambanan. This dance drama subsequently evolved into an important and popular new Indonesian art form. Stories from the Ramayana epic have become the most common subjects for dance dramas in Indonesia today, especially in Bali and Java.

In his best works, Pak Cokro was eventually able to forge a style uniquely his own -memorable for its rich ornamentation, an innovation characterized by those elements he cherished most, from the cross fertilization of many different styles of gamelan from different regions in Indonesia, such as Bali, Banyumas, East Java, and West Java.

Celebrating his 100th birthday 2004

Until he immigrated to the United States in 1971, Pak Cokro was deeply involved in music education in Java. At the Pakualaman Palace in 1932, he taught gamelan to school children, as well as to many established professional-level gamelan groups in Yogyakarta. In 1950 he served as a faculty member at the newly founded school of performing arts of the Indonesian government, the Konservatori Karawitan Indonesia, a performing arts high school for traditional music. In 1961 he taught for the Konservatori Tari Indonesia, a performing arts high school for traditional dance. He was a co-founder for both of these institutions. In 1961 he also established his own Center for Vocal Studies. In 1963 Pak Cokro served as a gamelan master at the National Dance Academy (ASTI) in Yogyakarta. During this time, from 1961-1971, he was also extremely busy composing works for the three most notable Javanese dance choreographers of that time: Romo Sasminta Mardowo, Sardono W. Kusumo, and Sudarso Pringgobroto.

Following the death of his father in 1962, Pak Cokro assumed the position as leader of the Pakualaman court gamelan. He arranged for various recordings to be made of the Pakualaman gamelan group. One particular selection from a 1971 recording was included as part of the music that Carl Sagan selected for the Voyager spacecraft. Most recently the CMP Recording Company from Germany has planned to release a series of CDs of his works.

From 1953-1971 Pak Cokro performed extensively throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and the former USSR, often as a member of the Indonesian government's cultural exchange program. His first visit to the U.S. in 1964, lasted almost a full year when he performed at the New York World Fair. In 1969 he visited the United States for the second time, when he led a group of musicians and dancers from Java and Bali called the Budaya Troupe. This cultural mission was sponsored by the American Society for Eastern Arts, now known as The Center for World Music and Related Arts. During that tour, the Budaya Troupe gave performances and lecture demonstrations at 35 different universities across the U.S.

Even after joining the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts during his third trip in 1971, Pak Cokro retained his position, until 1982, as the leader of the court gamelan at the Pakualaman. While a full-time faculty member at CalArts, he taught many workshops and summer sessions throughout the Unitd States at numerous universities and colleges. Such as, Mills College, University of Washington, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, Dominican College, University of Wisconsin, San Diego State University, UC San Diego, UC Los Angeles, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, Lewis and Clark College, and Simon Fraser University in Canada. He also taught at many Indonesian consulates and embassies throughout the U.S., particularly at the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Los Angeles. Former gamelan students of his acknowledge that, as a result of his presence and instruction, Pak Cokro was a crucial force in helping to establish enthusiastic and productive Javanese gamelan performance communities outside of Indonesia, especially in the United States.

During his illustrious career, Pak Cokro has received many awards and honors for his accomplishments as a musician and composer from important Indonesian political figures. The Sultan Hamengkubuwana IX, Sri Paku Alam VIII, General Surono, General Widodo, President Megawati, Minister of Culture and Education, and Minister of Tourism are amongst those figures.

His penultimate award came in 1974, when he was given the highest award an artist can receive from the President of Indonesia, the Anugerah Seni (Arts Award). Finally, before his retirement in 1993, Steven Lavine, the Presidant of CalArts, on behalf of Walt Disney, awarded Pak Cokro a gold medal. This was to honor him for his accomplishments as a musician/composer, and for his twenty years of service as educator and instructor of gamelan at CalArts.

Apart from these awards, Pak Cokro has acquired a succession of honorary titles and names. One of his more notable names being Ki Wasitodipuro, Ki is an honorific title for a person who has attained extraordinary knowledge and achievement, especially in arts and culture. Wasito means advisor, and dipuro means court, the title Wasitodipuro means advisor to the court. The most recent name that he has been gifted with is K.R.T. (Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung) Wasitodiningrat. K.R.T. also an honorific court title may be acquired because of one's distinguished accomplishments and lengthy tenure in the service of the Pakualaman court. Thus K.R.T. is the highest rank of the Pakualaman court that may be bestowed on a court musician. One with the rank of K.R.T. may also be known as a bupati (eldest supervisor). Again wasito means advisor, and diningrat means world, so Wasitodiningrat means advisor to the world.

After retiring from CalArts in 1993, Pak Cokro or K.R.T. Wasitodiningrat returned to Yogyakarta where he still till this day holds weekly gamelan rehearsals at his home, and gives guidance and advise to the players. He is approaching his one-hundred and third birthday, and he is still going strong.

Return to Top