Resot Iggau is the present Head of Music at Universiti Malaysia Sabah [UMS] here in Kota Kinabalu.
He’s Dusun, from Kampung Kapayan Baru Apin Apin, in Keningau.
“That’s my kampung,” he started. He’s very soft-spoken. “So I did my degree at UiTM [Universiti Teknologi MARA]…”
“Stop there,” I said. “I want to know the beginning. When did you FIRST learn about music?”
“Oh!” His eyes went big. “In church! That’s the normal first exposure. I was about ten years old. Also, my family had a band, and all my siblings played. At that time I was small, and I was always excited when I watched a function. I liked to follow the band, carry some small equipment. I watched them play, saw how they played the chords.
“Then one day my brother watched me and said, ‘See, he can play the chords already. Ok you come with me, when I need a break, you can play for me.'”
Resot’s brother is Oswald Iggau, also a lecturer at UMS.
“The first time my brother asked me to come with the band was at my uncle’s wedding. Halfway through he said, ‘You play the guitar now, I’m going to drink.’ The band carried on, so I started playing!
“We used to rotate, and we learned everything – drums, bass, keyboard, guitar, singing also. Because not so many people can play instruments, and when the drummer wants to drink, we have to change! Then the bassist wants to drink, and we have to change!”
By the time Resot was 16, music was a big part of his life.
In my heart, I wanted to further my studies in Music. My brother took Business Studies at UiTM in KL, and his friend in UiTM was [the Head of Music before Resot] Andrew Poninting.
Andrew would tell Oswald about the Music programme, and when my brother came back to the kampung, he would say, ‘Eh, you need to study Music at UiTM!’ He told me that Andrew was the only Sabahan furthering his studies in Music at UiTM at that time.
Resot did not go on to university straight after school. He passed his SPM in 1992, then spent four years playing in a band in his kampung.
“Then I became a part-time teacher, it’s called Guru Sandaran, you have a contract with the government. I was in Lahad Datu for two years.”
Resot was starting to think that his dream to study Music was going to end here. “I thought I was going to be a teacher, teaching Bahasa Melayu. Just for a last try, I applied to UiTM to study Music, and I got it.”
Resot went to UiTM in 1998.
It was a shock.
My perception of learning music in university – I thought it was just like, you come to class and jam! But it was totally different! You have to learn history, aural skills, composition. Then I became scared to play music! Before, there was nothing to worry about! You just play! Now, I had to be careful, lah. I realised there was so much I didn’t know.
“I played classical guitar and electric guitar. I learned Modern Music with Farid Ali, two years of Classical Guitar with UiTM’s Mr. Simon, and two years of Electric Guitar.
My minor study was the clarinet. When I came to UiTM, they said, ‘Right, you have to choose your major and minor studies… NOW. So what do you want to choose? Flute? Clarinet? Cello?’ My friend said to take clarinet because no-one plays it in the orchestra. So I did.
Of course, in the beginning it was a problem, for the first month it was very hard to blow. I didn’t know anything about this instrument, I had to listen to orchestra music, to find out what kind of instrument this is.
“Later I learned alto saxophone, the fingering is different, and flute fingering is the same as alto. But I think the clarinet is the mother of all wind instruments. If you start with the clarinet, it is easier with the others, later.”
It was almost ten years before Resot came back to Sabah to work. His first degree took four years, then he took another four years for his Masters in Music Education.
“The Masters was a combination of research and coursework. So you make a mini-thesis, and also attend classes: the Psychology of Music, Methodology of Music, Philosophy of Music, History of Music in Malaysia. While studying, I worked as a part-time music teacher at Mahogany Music in Shah Alam, and also at Bentley Music.”
To Resot, KL was a great learning ground. But when it came to building his career, he wanted to be in Sabah.
When we talk about exposure to music, KL is very good. But if we are talking about wanting to build a career long-term, I needed to come back to Sabah, I needed to share my knowledge and experience and serve my Sabahan people.
Andrew Poninting also felt like that. We feel we have to share, because we are from here. We know what the level [of music knowledge] is like here. There was no college of music in Sabah, before the Music Programme in UMS.
Resot called the then Head of Music at UMS, Ian Baxter. He asked if there was any possibility to join UMS.
“I said I’m Sabahan, from Keningau, I got my Masters in Music Education. Mr. Baxter was very happy! So that was ok. Then Professor Madya Haji Inon Shaharuddin, who was the Dean, School of Arts at that time, said he wanted to see my research. He’s the research-oriented one!
“My thesis was about the motivational side. ‘Causal attributions of success and failure in learning aural skills.’ It was about what factors might affect a student’s success or failure in developing aural skills. Things like effort, ability, quality of the teacher, these are quite normal things we have to look at all the time in Music Education.
“Professor Haji Inon liked it! He said, ‘Okay come.’ So I attended the interview and five months later I received my offer of employment. I joined UMS in 2008.”
The position Head of Music is rotated every two years.
“When I started, Mr. Ian Baxter was Head of the Music Programme. Then for two years it was Mr. Andrew Poninting. Then they asked me! My term finishes in May 2013.
“In the beginning I thought I cannot handle this. But you learn about the mission of the university, the different problems in a university, not just to do with the students, but in other departments and other programmes. It is a good experience.”
The Music Programme wants to provide fundamental knowledge to Sabahans who come to learn Music at UMS.
The biggest challenge for us is choosing our candidates. Out of hundreds, only about 8-10 have some basic knowledge, such as reading notes. The rest can play by ear.
But we know about this, because we were the same. Many of us entered university with zero knowledge. We come from that background. So when we conduct the interviews, we know what we are going to ask them, and we are familiar with the answers because we come from the same place.
“We want our students to be proud of our Music programme and to help build up the programme here,” Resot added.
Along with his broadening experience as an educator, Resot Iggau hopes to further his own studies.
The policy of the university is to reach a point where all its staff are at the PhD level. Mr. Ian Baxter is now doing his PhD in Ethnomusicology and he will be the first person to have a PhD in Music in Sabah. I hope to further my studies and to obtain my PhD as well, one day.