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CJ 111.1 37-51 T.H.M. Geller-Goad and Timothy Moore, “Using Music in Performing Roman Comedy”

tl;dr version: an account of the range of ways participants incorporated music into the performances that came out of the 2012 Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance, with suggestions for using these in classes

as with the other articles in this volume, undergraduates could certainly read and benefit from them, but they are explicitly aimed at teachers

stakes: a compelling argument for attending to a crucial but oft-overlooked component of Roman comedy

Here as in the other articles in this volume the authors introduce us to one aspect of what was involved in the performances that came out of the 2012 summer institute (available here, in case you haven’t read the other posts in this series: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmBs1K1ruw2i48CmDku1HrQ/videos). This time the focus is on music, and the article lays out five increasingly complicated ways of incorporating music into a class on Roman Comedy. Each of these is helpfully illustrated by one of the performance videos, so if you’re too nervous to actually try getting your own students to sing in class, you can at least show them the exuberant performance of others!

The middle technique in the list, a capella singing to the rhythm of the meter, is one I was familiar with from an APA (aka SCS) presentation by Timothy Moore a couple of years ago. He had the audience sing /chant some of the Latin, attending less to pitch than rhythm, so as to get some sense of the effects of these complex sequences of long and short syllables. Me, I love meter, and as a college student used to memorize chunks of Vergil just to hear the subtly shifting rhythms of the hexameters. I invariably force my students to read hexameters or elegiac couplets in meter, and they (well, most of them) come to appreciate the effects as well. But I still have a rough time with the bewildering range of what even an iambic senarius can sound like, let alone the more complicated polymetrics, and I have to confess that I spend much less class time on this in a comedy class than I do with other Latin poetry.

I have tried Moore’s method of singing/chanting the meters in classes, though, and can attest that it’s illuminating, and gives students a great sense of what they’re missing without the music of the originals. The video of the Bacchides that illustrates this technique adds actual melody to the rhythms, and this makes a great demonstration for students of what the possibilities are simply of “translating” the rhythms of the Latin into song.

Moore and Geller-Goad also discuss two methods somewhat simpler than this: a rap-style performance with only rhythmical accompaniment, and spoken lines with incidental music in the background; each of these is also illustrated with a video and suggestions for use in classes. If you’re more ambitious rather than less you can go on to two further suggestions for accompanied singing: first, using a repeated melody under a stichic passage (i.e. repeated lines in the same meter); then actual accompanied singing of the more complicated meters of the cantica.

These last two methods clearly would require more of students than a single-day classroom exercise, but could be amazing learning opportunities for musically-inclined students. Even if you can’t imagine ever actually having your students do any of this, though, the illustrative videos area treasure-trove for the classroom. I will certainly be making heavy use of them in future.

UPDATE: I actually did this in class today. I’m teaching the Casina at the moment, and we sang some of the opening canticum (Cleostrata and Myrrhina) and then the beginning of Pardalisca’s mad scene. Fun! Bottom line is, however, that anapests will sound like Bohemian Rhapsody: compare: sine amet, sine quod lubet id faciat, quando tibi nil domi delicuomst with Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango? Anyway thanks to Mr.’s Moore and Geller-Goad for the tips.

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