Composing a New Musical
Sutedjo has applied this combo approach to his research and musical works, including composing the book, music, and lyrics, for Fly Me Away, an original musical featuring a teenage jazz pianist named Frank and his father who move from Shanghai to New York City.
“He does in a single day, more than most people do in a month,” said Eric Bianchi, an associate professor of music and one of Sutedjo’s mentors.
The idea to write a musical came to Sutedjo in high school, when he realized “that there just wasn’t a lot of Asian representation in the musical theater canon.”
He began working on it in his free time, until he developed it as his honors thesis. His work intensified junior year, when Sutedjo participated in Fordham’s partnership with Juilliard. Jake Landau, one of his instructors there, told Sutedjo that he would be a perfect fit for a program he was leading that summer.
“I was able to secure funding from the Fordham undergraduate research grant, which allowed me to participate in this two-week intensive in Italy—the New Voice Composers Studio at the Narni International Vocal Arts Festival—which was really cool,” Sutedjo said. “I was able to workshop and premiere two new pieces of mine at this international music and arts festival.”
At the center of Sutedjo’s work is a desire to share and uplift the stories of Asian Americans, particularly after witnessing and experiencing marginalization, and microaggressions against the community.
“I’ve been able to find my voice and realize this is something that not only can I do, but it’s needed—if I was feeling that way when I was 14, I’m sure there’s a lot of other young Asian kids who also feel that way,” said Sutedjo, who is Indonesian American of Chinese descent.
Sutedjo said this work is particularly important now as many Asian Americans have experienced discrimination over the past few years.
“In order to combat these stereotypes, you need to tell a much wider array of stories that portray Asians not as a monolith, not as a stereotype, but really as a diverse array of people with individual stories,” he said.
The Power of Connections
Sutedjo knows how impactful representation can be. When he was an actor (and later assistant music director) with Fordham’s theater club Mimes and Mummers, the group brought in Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li, a director of Taiwanese descent and the director of performance, storytelling, and community at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in Lower Manhattan.
“He was the first Asian director that I’ve ever worked with and that was a very cool experience for me to see someone that looks like me in that position of theater leadership,” he said.
Sutedjo participated in a couple of projects helmed by Li, and eventually their connection led to Fly Me Away’s debut at MOCA, with support from Fordham’s undergraduate research community and honors program.
A Debut Reading at the Museum of Chinese in America
“We were able to bring on an all-Asian cast and creative team alongside two Fordham musicians,” Sutedjo said. “We had a full stage reading, and roughly 90 people came to each show, which was a great reception.”
Sutedjo said that he plans to use the feedback to revise the production before its next iteration.
“Most musical projects don’t go that far,” said Bianchi, who is also a musician. “To watch somebody who’s 21 do that, it’s astounding by any count.”
Fly Me Away was also recognized at Fordham, as he received the Fordham College Alumni Association Research Symposium Award for the production.
Advancing the Music Department
Another mentor, music professor Nathan Lincoln-Decusatis, said Sutedjo’s unique talents and skill sets have not only benefited him, but they’ve also helped the music department explore new areas, such as “music as research.”
“Research can be in the performing arts, and Miguel opened the door for the future at Fordham, because he was the first one to really think of harnessing the resources of the research community,” he said. “And now that’s a precedent. Miguel was the trailblazer for that.”
Sutedjo said that he hopes to use this Fulbright to immerse himself in teaching and his own heritage, and use those experiences in the future.
“Being able to live abroad in Taiwan for a year, absorbing the language, I think will not only help me connect with my heritage, but also it allows me to tell a greater range of stories through having that lived experience,” he said.