Music Profs Receive Luce Foundation Grant to Explore Indonesian Music Archives

Professors Anna Maria Busse Berger and Henry Spiller
Professors Anna Maria Busse Berger and Henry Spiller just received a Luce Foundation grant. (Courtesy photo)

Compiled from a story by Jeffrey Day, College of Letters and Science

UC Davis professors Henry Spiller and Anna Maria Busse Berger have received a major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Asia Program to investigate the indigenous music of the archipelago. Documentation of these materials has been largely hidden and dismissed.

The award to the College of Letters and Science’s Department of Music professors will provide funding for research, two conferences and post-doctoral fellowships. Titled “Toward a music history of the Indonesian archipelago,” the project will last from fall 2019 to spring 2021.

“This material has been difficult to find, scattered and ignored,” Spiller said. “It has been ignored because it was collected by missionaries and considered biased, but that’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We’re not trying to redeem the missionaries, but to make the priceless information they collected available to all interested parties.”

Bringing their expertise together

The collaboration is unusual because although both professors are musicologists, they specialize in very different areas. Busse Berger is an expert in medieval and Renaissance music, and Spiller’s research is on music and dance of West Java in Indonesia. During her research, Busse Berger came across reports on Indonesian music by missionaries, and brought it to Spiller’s attention. They both decided to pursue the research jointly.

Rich and tumultuous history

The long and tumultuous history of Indonesia makes studying the music problematic. The vast territory was subject to overlapping global, political, social and religious movements from the 7th century to the end of World War II when Indonesia became an independent nation.

Most sources of information are difficult to interpret. Spiller and Busse Berger’s project will make the materials widely accessible for the first time to all music scholars.

“By putting our sources into dialogue with one another, our goal is to reframe them as multiple historical narratives embedded within musical ideologies and activities,” Busse Berger said. “It promotes a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between indigenous traditions, missionary influences and other agents of musical change.”

Read the complete story, and more history of the faculty expertise, on the College of Letters and Science web site

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