Maintaining the Performance Traditions

The gamelan playing in the “intra-negara” events described above is provided by instrumentalists (niyaga) and vocalists (pesindhen [female] and lebdoswara [male]) who are members of the palace’s performing arts office, Kridhamardawa. They are all abdidalem, individuals in voluntary service to the Sultan and the Kraton (see the Palace Musicians appendix for more information about abdidalem musicians). As a group, they constitute a specialized pool of musical knowledge and talent that is drawn upon by the palace to realize the musical facet of its ceremonial life. At least some of the music produced by these musicians is unique to the palace context, and even though much of the rest of the music realized by these abdidalem musicians is part of the contemporary common practice gamelan tradition performed throughout central Java, it still involves subtleties of musical detail and treatment that are specific to gamelan performance in the palace. In order to transmit over time the specialized knowledge of palace music making and its integration into the ceremonial traditions of the palace, Kridhamardawa coordinates a regular rehearsal schedule for its abdidalem musicians. During my month-long visit to Yogyakarta in 2016, eight such rehearsals took place in Bangsal Kasatriyan, which for decades has served as the home within the palace proper of the Kridhamardawa office.

Throughout the course of a year the majority of Kridhamardawa rehearsals is focused on preparing the musicians for upcoming Hadiluhung ceremonies. Monday and Wednesday mornings are set aside for this purpose. During the two or three weeks preceding Sekatèn each year, a few of these rehearsals are dedicated to preparing the Kridhamardawa niyaga for the specialized demands of performance on the gamelan sekati. On most Sunday mornings, Kridhamardawa also hosts dance-training sessions with live gamelan accompaniment. Although it once did, today the palace does not have abdidalem dancers, even though very palace-specific dance choreographies are often presented as part of palace ceremonies. Since the 1940s the palace has been dependent on local dance schools to produce dancers familiar with the style and repertoire of the Kraton Yogyakarta dance tradition. Sunday-morning Kridhamardawa dance training affords interested local dancers with a regular opportunity to experience dancing in the palace.

Of the eight Kridhamardawa rehearsal events that took place during my 2016 visit, four events were dedicated to Hadiluhung preparation, two to Sekatèn preparation, and two to dance training.