I was so sad to hear of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Indonesia this week, a city we were based in from 1988-93. Having also experienced losing our own home in the Christchurch earthquake of 2010, we know in a small measure that it can take years to recover, even from a lesser quake. The recovery from this for the people of Palu, Donggala and the west coast of Sulawesi is likely to be longer and much more challenging than what it was for us here.
We have so many memories from our time there, most of them positive, but few centered around music. Here is one memory of some stunning musicians we came across in Palu.
It was a fairly normal Sunday morning, a typical Palu day around 34°C and we went to church as usual. What was unusual was that there was to be a visiting choir at the service. Many Indonesian people love singing and are good at it, but nothing prepared us for what we were about to hear.
As they filed in I noticed that our hostess from our days of learning Indonesian was in the choir. We had lived with her family for 6 months while learning Bahasa Indonesia. I didn’t know that she was a singer as such, so that didn’t particularly raise my expectations. They were to sing unaccompanied. (There was a piano in the church, one of only 15 in the whole city. A piano tuner used to come once a year from another place to tune them. Anyway, I’m digressing.) It was quite normal for choirs to sing acapella.
The conductor was a young man who looked not much more than 15. I thought this is going to be interesting. And then they all opened their mouths and the first chord sent a ripple down my spine. The harmony, the volume! It was stunning. I had never heard such a magnificent choir. Not one person let the side down and it was total commitment that produced an incredible sound from start to finish. Then I found out that they were the representative choir for the province – people from various churches around that region who were preparing to participate in the national choir competition in Yogyakarta.
The following week I was contacted by our former hostess to ask if I would come and accompany the choir for a practice. They had never played with a piano, but as part of the competition they had to have two of their pieces accompanied. I couldn’t help but think it was a shame to add a piano to their already excellent sound! But I agreed to see if I could help.
The young conductor turned out to be somewhere in his 20s and was incredibly skilled. I marvelled at his musicianship and that of the choir who learned all their music from the Indonesian not angka system. It was all done with tonic-sol-fa and their musical score is shown with numbers, along with various dots and dashes to show rhythm. Fortunately for me the piano music was familiar western notation!
After a number of practices they got used to singing with a piano and I was invited to come with them to the national competition. Unfortunately, due to our work and upcoming trip to the village area, it just wasn’t going to work out for me to go. But their conductor told me later that he had learned enough to know what he was looking for when an accompanist was provided for them, and turned down two before he was happy with a third. They had never made it into the top half before, but that year this out of the way province came 5th out of 27 provinces in the national competition. I wasn’t surprised. I knew they had something special.
A search for a beautiful sound in our music is the same in every culture, even though what defines a beautiful sound is going to be different from place to place. Striving for excellence brings many rewards, and much is involved in getting there. If I can in some way inspire my pupils to play music beautifully, learn to play music they want to play and enlarge their outlook to discover other music to enjoy too, then I know they are well on the way to enjoying it for many years to come.
As I’ve been reflecting on this story of our time in Palu, I pray for the community, friends and co-workers who work with them as they go through the effects of the earthquake, tsunami and aftershocks that we know from experience will likely continue for years.
Sorry, I don’t have a photo (or a recording) of that magnificent choir. The other photos are of the Palu beachfront, Donggala waterfront (taken during our time there) and a meal with Palu friends.
8 thoughts on “A Story from our time in Palu”
Dominique GREENSLADE says:
Really enjoyed your story from your time in Palu”s. Hope and pray like you that the sense of community will help the people there recover.
They have certainly had much worse than what happened in NZ and I ‘m glad our Government is helping in sending aid and money.
Enjoy your holiday with your family as well!
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Thanks for the feedback Dominique. Lovely to hear from you and glad you enjoyed the story.
Chrissie Badger says:
I am so moved by what you have shared Delwyn. It has brought home to us all in Christchurch, the huge trauma those dear people must be experiencing with such huge loss of life. Somewhere in the midst of all this, one hopes for music and songs to be part of the recovery of their human spirit as a People Group. May they find in time that melodies and harmonies, instruments and words expressing their deepest feelings, will start the healing process. I am in awe of your journey as a family and the commitment and courage you have shown to these Indonesian people where you lived.
May Music spring up again in their hearts, to heal, and soothe …. hopefully bringing a story to the world who are watching…of the power of Music. Chrissie Badger
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Amen to all of that Chrissie. Thanks so much for your beautiful response.
Leanne Hanna says:
Thank you Delwyn for your blog about this story of your hostess, the choir and of our beloved city Palu. We are praying for them all and are thankful for the memories we have of being in Palu with you and your family. I am thankful for how God brought your family through the earthquake in NZ.
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Yes we think of you too as you are so much closer to many in Palu these days. They certainly were special days as we look back, even as you and I struggled with homesickness amidst the many cultural adjustments. So much trauma for the Palu people today, they need our prayers to get through this.
Ian Vail says:
Thanks for taking us back so they can look forward Delwyn. As always your comments are insightful and poignant. Such a great story to select from the many in your Palu archives. Yes our hearts too are burdened after hearing the news of the devastation in Palu. It strikes close to home when you hear of an earthquake hitting a city you know and love. It has happened twice in recent times with Christchurch and now Palu. Praying with you for them.
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Thanks so much for your encouraging comments and your heart to remember and pray for the people of Palu with us.