03/11/2022, 15.17
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Fr Soetanto, the musician priest, has died

by Mathias Hariyadi

Raised by a music teacher, he touched the lives of dozens of kids by teaching them how to play an instrument. Almost all the organists who now accompany the liturgies in Indonesia have been his students.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Fr Antonius Soetanto, the most important composer of liturgical music in Indonesia, has died at the age of 84 earlier this month.

Following a stroke, the Jesuit priest left his pastoral work at St Servatius Church in Kampung Sawah, Bekasi (West Java), and moved to Emmaus House, a home to retired clergymen.

In the 1970s he studied composition at the Nederlands Instituut voor Katholieke Kerkmuziek (Dutch Institute for Catholic Church Music) in Utrecht, where in graduated with a degree in music and conducting in 1977.

After he went home, he took final vows in 1982 and then started teaching music to children at the St Francis Xavier parish church in Tanjung Priok, north of the capital.

“What would the Catholic Church in Indonesia be like if Fr Soetanto had not taught music to dozens of kids,” wonders A. Kunarwoko. “His legacy includes liturgical compositions that are always sung during the weekly Mass.”

The organists who today accompany the liturgy in Indonesia are almost all former students of the musician priest. AsiaNews spoke to a former student who was part of the Ascencio choir.

“My life changed when Fr Soetanto asked me to join the Ascencio Choir,” said Lucy Naidu from the United States.

“My father died when I was two and my mother was forced to work late into the night. I spent most of my time at home alone, but then I received Fr Soetanto’s support to learn how to play the organ from scratch.”

The priest used to say: “I taught you music and how to play an instrument for free. Then it will be your turn to spread your talents to others.”

Abandoned by his parents when the Dutch tried to retake the country militarily, Soetanto was raised by Soekono Darmobroto, a teacher and musician at St Joseph's Gedangan church in Semarang.

He learnt to play the violin and then, when he was a young seminarian at Mertoyudan minor seminary in Magelang, he started teaching music to other future priests as well.

“Fr Soetanto made me appreciate a variety of music, from classical to hard rock by Led Zeppellin,” said Jimmy S. Harianto, a former seminarian and journalist with the daily Kompas.

He joined the Society of Jesus in 1959, studied philosophy in Poona, India, and theology in Yogyakarta, where he was ordained priest on 6 December 1961.

After pastoral work in Tanjung Priok, Fr Soetanto taught liturgical music at the Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia until 2000.

Three years later he was moved to St Servatius Church in Kampung Sawah.

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