According to a posting on the gamelan list, one of my puppetry teachers, Ki Oemartopo, passsed away yesterday (5 November 2008). Pak Oemar (as I have always called him) practiced the Mangkunegaran style of puppetry and studied visual arts at ASRI in Yogyakarta. He was the first professional dhalang to live and teach in the United States. He taught at Wesleyan University in the late 1960s and later at the American Society for Eastern Arts (ASEA) and a number of California universities. He also worked with Bob Brown on his summer programmes in Bali and taught in Hungary.
I got to know about Pak Oemar through Marc Hoffman, whom I assisted in a wayang performance at the University of Hawai'i in 1988. Pak Oemar taught Marc in California in the early 1970s.
If memory serves, I first visited Pak Oemar's house in Wonogiri in early 1989. Pak Oemar encouraged me to study a full lakon as up until then I had learned only sulukan and puppet movement at STSI, but not how to tell a story. He wanted me to do a classic lakon pokok such as Makutharama but I insisted on doing Petruk Dadi Ratu (Petruk Becomes King)- something light and comical and not pretentious. I made the treck out to Wonogiri two or three times a week for months thereafter, working with Pak Oemar and Wonogiri musicians.
My debut came in the summer of 1989, when I performed one pathet of the Petruk Dadi Ratu. Mas Joko Susilo (another of my teachers) and Pak Oemar performed the other two. A small gamelan accompanied this performance in Pak Oemar's front parlour with an invited audience made up in large part of foreign students of karawitan studying in Solo. Pak Oemar was not actively performing in 1989 and 1990 due to health problems, and so it was a special treat to see him in action.
I continued to study with Pak Oemar for the rest of my stay in Java -- through the summer of 1990. He was always a generous host, taking me out to Manyaran to purchase puppets, inviting me to special ceremonies and events, eating with me at his house. He became very dear to me in this time though later we grew distant.
My wife is a distant relative of Pak Oemar - she calls him 'Om' - and thus I mourn not only the loss of a teacher but also a family member. Condolences to Pak Oemar's family. "To God belongs what He takes and to Him belongs what He gives. And there is a set time by Him for everything."