On Saturday, January 8, 2011, Indonesia lost one of its most talented sons with the death of Elfa Secioria at age 51.
In these days of "idols," computerized dance tracks and Youtube - the moniker "musical genius" may be too readily bestowed, but there can be no argument that Elfa Secioria was a rare and precious musical treasure that Indonesia or the world won't soon see again.
Born Elfa Secioria Hasbullah in Garut, West Java on February 20, 1959, Elfa acquired his love of the piano via his policeman father who was an active leader of a jazz band. Showing precocious keyboard talents from the age of 5, Elfa was already performing before appreciative crowds with his own jazz trio by age 8. Before his 20th birthday the musical wunderkind has completed courses in symphonic music, musical arrangement, music theory and musical history.
Soft-spoken, mild-mannered and possessing a diminutive stature, Elfa created disproportionate musical waves wherever his musical groups performed their Maestro's compositions and arrangements. An unofficial musical ambassador, he dominated Indonesia's participation at almost every international music and performance festivals where, more often than not, he brought back home top honors.
Elfa's best-selling EMI recording "From Indonesia with Love" remains the definitive compendium of modern arrangements of traditional national songs gathered from Sabang to Merauke.
A musical teacher and stylist without equal, Elfa shaped the sound of contemporary Indonesia music by grooming singers and musical groups that are today known and respected at home and abroad. Elfa's Singers, Elfa's Big Band, Yana Yulio, Harvey Malaihollo, Andien, Sherina, Agus Wisman, Hedi Yunus, Lita Zen, Uci Nurul, Tony Sianipar, Rita Effendy, Titi DJ, Ruth Sahanaya, Orkes Telerama, the Chandrakirana Orchestra and many other leading musicians and group that have come under the quiet, yet authoritative, baton of "Bang Elfa."
His was a "musical Midas touch" that brought home gold and trophies to Indonesia, sold large numbers of records and guaranteed quality to the TV programs in which he was featured. His songs and his performances, time and again, won Indonesia top honors at the ASEAN Song Festival, Tokyo Song Festival, Golden Kite Festival (Kuala Lumpur), World Song Festival (Tokyo). Elfa's educational and musical directing abilities also earned his groups world titles in international choral and marching band competitions. Jazz, pop, sacred choral music, classical choral arrangements and precision marching music were musical genres that Elfa played and conquered - all with undiminished aplomb. The resulting honors, trophies and official accolades could fill a medium-size museum.
On a personal level, I have fond memories of a friendship spanning 30 years. These include memories of a personal visit to my home in Bali with his wife, Vera, and Elfa's Singers in tow. There was a trip to Bandung to attend his wedding in 1991 held at the Savoy Homan Hotel. That mental wedding album includes recollections of a solemn event that evaporated into joyful pandaemonium when Elfa, traditionally dressed in West Javanese finery, deserted the reception line to lead a jam session that went on for hours as an endless array of talented performers joined "Bang Elfa" in music and song. There is another legendary story of how Elfa completed 17 musical arrangements during a marathon seven-hour flight, a feat I saw approximated when I commissioned him to compose, score and record a documentary film track - playing single-handedly every one of the musical tracks in an all-night session at a Jakarta recording studio. That night I did what I could to contribute to the creative process: I hung a sign on the studio door saying "Do Not Disturb: Genius at Work."
His evident musical brilliance made all those privileged to work with Elfa eager to hold themselves to "Abang's" exacting standards. At the same time, his ready-smile and gentle, persuasive style endeared him with students and fellow musicians alike. Yana Yulio, an original member of Elfa's Singers and one of Indonesia's most successful recording artists recalls: "He taught us with 'soft power' and was never angry. If we made a mistake in rehearsal, he would scold us while joking, so no one ever felt offended."
Elfa Secioria is survived by his wife Vera and three children aged 12-17 years.
Elfa may now be gone, but his melodies linger in scores of songs and nearly 20 albums to his credit.
And, in this deeply religious nation, there exists the certain knowledge that the great celestial choir of angels now have a new, tighter and even sweeter sound courtesy of their new resident conductor and musical arranger.
To commiserate with friend and introduce this remarkable man to new audiences, we're including a YouTube.com clip of Elfa at the keyboard leading his arrangement of "A Foggy Day."
20 February 1959 Ė 8 January 2011
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