TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Hiromi Kano slowly walks over to a rebab (two-stringed bowed gamelan instrument). "This is one of my favorite instruments of the gamelan. It has a very unique sound," she said Friday two weeks ago.The bespectacled woman sat on the carpet in a room on the second floor of the Mojosongo Subdistrict office in Solo. With deft strokes, she draws a small bow across the strings, and a low, almost moaning sound follows.
Hiromi is not only skilled at playing the rebab. She is equally proficient with other instruments of the Javanese gamelan. Every Wednesday afternoon, she practices karawitan (Javanese vocal and instrumental music) alongside other villagers at the Mojosongo subdistrict office.
Born in Chiba, Japan, 49 years ago, Hiromi is a respected sinden, or Javanese traditional singer. A resident of Solo, Central Java, for nearly 20 years, she often performs at wayang performances throughout the country. "I perform most often with the puppet-master Ki Manteb Soedharsono," she said.
Hiromi has loved music since childhood. She began by studying classical music on the piano and after graduating from high school, she enrolled at the Tokyo College of Music, a prestigious music school in Japan. It was here that Hiromi first learned about Javanese gamelan and Javanese music, which she picked as her major. At first, Hiromi was able to play several gamelan instruments, although none of them very well. "I could only play the basic karawitan musical scales," she said. She would perform publicly, inviting her parents to watch her and her group. Her parents dutifully came to watch but were totally unimpressed. Not surprisingly, they expressed their disapproval of her intention to continue with her karawitan studies. But it was too late: Hiromi had fallen deeply in love with Javanese music.
After completing her studies, Hiromi began looking for scholarship opportunities in Indonesia. In 1996, she was able to win a Darmasiswa scholarship, which she used to study Indonesian culture for a year. The scholarship took her to Surakarta in Central Java, where she decided to study karawitan at the Indonesian Arts College (STSI). The school has since been renamed the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) of Solo. (*)
Read the complete profile and story of Hiromi Kano in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine