A message from the RC Director, Catherine Badgley
We celebrate the career of retiring faculty member, Susan Walton. As you can see in the photos below, Susan has had a distinguished international career as an expert in the music and performance styles of Southeast Asia. We are fortunate that she directed the gamelan program at the University of Michigan for 17 years, and many of us have benefited from the opportunity to experience one of the gamelan concerts that she sponsored on campus. She is a cherished teacher of hundreds of students in the RC on the music, theatre, and ethnic identity of cultures in South and Southeast Asia. She has invited gamelan artists from Indonesia to the UM campus on several occasions and is model of cross-cultural exchange and collaboration. Please enjoy the photos, note, and bio that she has provided us. Congratulations, Susan, and best wishes for your next adventures!
Director, Residential College
Susan's reflections on her career at U-M
Teaching at the UM has been one of the best experiences of my life. I feel particularly grateful that I found the Residential College (through Beth Genné’s help), because of its ethos of camaraderie; the harmonious relations among faculty, students and staff; its innovative spirit; and the enormous autonomy and independence afforded to faculty members. How wonderful it was to create courses that I wanted to teach rather than being told to teach the same survey over and over. I felt lucky that I could teach in the Arts and Ideas in the Humanities Concentration, for it combined my passions for music, literature and cultural studies. I particularly enjoyed teaching Arts and Ideas of Modern South and Southeast Asia. A second favorite was The Performing Arts of South and Southeast Asia, where I had the pleasure of delving into theories of oral transmission in cultures with limited access to literacy. Because of those two courses, I conducted research in Kerala, India. I also enjoyed teaching Cultural Confrontations in the Arts, which focused on how artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers in the three main ethnic groups in the US view their position in the racial hierarchy. For each segment of the class, I invited an artist of that ethnic group to present his/her art. Listening to mixed media artists Marianetta Porter and Sadashi Inuzuka explain their lives and their work was a great privilege. For several years I taught Studying and Playing Southeast Asian Music, half of it a survey of Indonesian music, and half of it playing gamelan, all in my basement.
Teaching gamelan and running the gamelan program afforded me so many opportunities. I discovered with surprise and delight how some students benefit from experiential learning in ways that they didn’t when reading and writing. I performed as a pesindhen (solo female gamelan singer) with many gamelan groups in Java and the US. I so enjoyed bringing Javanese performing artists to teach and perform at UM, people I had met on my research trips to Java. For some of our concerts, we had a hundred UM students on the Hill stage performing as gamelan musicians, dancers, puppeteers, narrators and singers. Recently the Indonesian government has taken notice of the UM gamelan’s activities (which started decades before I started at the RC). It awarded the UM Gamelan a “cultural award certificate.” I attended the award ceremony in Chicago and was told that as a result of the level of activity at UM, the Indonesian government will provide musicians and dancers to us in the future, paid for by the Indonesian government. The government also invited me to represent the US in the 2014 celebration of Indonesian Independence; I spent a week with ten other Indonesian aficionados from across the world, meeting Indonesian governmental officials, including President Yudhoyono.
I want to thank the many RC faculty and staff members who took the time to share their teaching experiences with me, to advise me, to answer my many questions, and to help me navigate the university.
All my best,
Susan Pratt Walton is an ethnomusicologist with research interests in Javanese gamelan music, gender studies, life history studies, and performance studies. She has been teaching ethnomusicology, gamelan music and cultural studies at the University of Michigan and in the Residential College since 1996, where she is a Lecturer IV. She earned her doctorate in ethnomusicology from the University of Michigan in 1996. She has been studying, researching, and performing Javanese gamelan music since 1968, much of it in Indonesia, where she has conducted ethnomusicological fieldwork on many occasions in projects supported by Fulbright-Hays, Social Science Research Council, Luce Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and UM. She has also conducted research on shadow puppet theater in Kerala, India. She has become one of the foremost experts in Javanese solo female singing (sindhenan) and has performed with numerous gamelan groups in the US, Indonesia, England, Australia, and New Zealand. Her publications include a monograph on sindhenan, Mode in Javanese Music (for which she received the Louise Cuyler Award for Musicology at UM) and several articles on the cultural significance of this vocal tradition, including a long article on the history of sindhenan to be published in the Journal for the Society of Ethnomusicology in 2021. She has also published translations from the Javanese of two major treatises on Javanese gamelan music. As Director of the University of Michigan Gamelan since 2003, she has invited numerous Javanese musicians, puppeteers, and dancers to year-long residencies at UM and has produced many concerts involving multiple student dancers, actors, musicians and puppeteers in performances of traditional Javanese dance drama.
You can hear Susan and the gamelan in this video produced by the U-M Center for Southeast Asian Studies.