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German missionary honored in Indonesia

Father Karl-Edmund Prier took pains to tour Indonesia to fuse local elements into Church music
Father Karl-Edmund Prier delivers a speech at Yogyakarta Institute of the Arts on May 11

Father Karl-Edmund Prier delivers a speech at Yogyakarta Institute of the Arts on May 11. (Photo: Youtube)

Published: May 12, 2023 10:33 AM GMT
Updated: May 12, 2023 10:44 AM GMT

An art institute in Indonesia has honored a German-born Jesuit missionary for his dedication to the country's music.

The 85-year-old Father Karl-Edmund Prier who pioneered inculturation in liturgical music, is one of the two recipients of an honorary doctorate (doctor honoris causa) from the Yogyakarta Institute of the Arts on May 11, along with Professor Gunnar Spellmeyer, an expert in architecture.

Timbul Raharjo, the rector of the institute said it is a form of appreciation for their contributions. Father Prier contributed greatly to the field of music science, especially liturgical music, he said.

Raharjo praised the priest’s dedication to the institute where he taught the history of music and review of music repertoire among other subjects for 33 years from 1971 to 2004.

He called the priest a person who "loved Indonesia very much.”

In a speech entitled 'Life for Music,' Father Prier recounted his efforts to integrate Church music with the Indonesian culture, through the Liturgical Music Center, which he founded in 1971 with Paul Widyawan, an Indonesian Catholic composer.

"Although our work at the center focused on Church music, this goal could only be achieved by studying Indonesian music," he said.

Father Prier made an effort to deepen his appreciation for regional music by traveling around the archipelago.

He admitted finding varieties that he called "hidden pearls".

In the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra province, he said, he found distinctive songs which he later called "healing music," sung by shamans called sikerei who claim to attract the souls of people who are sick or dying to return to their bodies.

On the Catholic-majority island of Flores, he met with the Keo tribe, who had a distinctive musical arrangement played with bamboo instruments.

"In a remote area without electricity, at that time, we had the extraordinary experience of witnessing the appearance of the Keo people playing high-tempo music, illuminated by the lights from the jeep we were traveling in," he said.

The inspiration from that trip later became the basis for the Liturgical Music Center to compile a prayer and liturgical book after receiving a mandate from the Liturgical Music Congress in Yogyakarta in 1975.

Prier also served as chair of the Liturgical Music Section of the Liturgical Commission for Bishops and taught church music at St. Paul Major Seminary in Kentungan, Yogyakarta.

Roland Modestus Jemuru, who has been active as a conductor and choir trainer since 2010, said he liked Prier’s songs as they are "easy to sing."

“I often use his songs. Because it is easy to sing, and people taking part in singing songs at Mass," he told UCA News.

Jemuru, who now owns the Yogyakarta-based Niscala Choir group, said the valuable legacy of Father Prier is his efforts to “touch the unique aspects of Indonesian art and culture."

Father Prier arrived in Indonesia in 1964. On Feb. 11, 2018, the priest became a victim of a stabbing attack by a sword-wielding Muslim extremist Suliyono during a Mass at St. Lidwina Church in Yogyakarta.

Father Prier later pardoned Suliyono.

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