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The contribution of music in the field of theatre and drama in education

“Theatrical synthesis” – an historical overview of music’s relationship to speech and drama

 

“Whenever someone spoke to me, I may have not grasped the words, but I grasped the rise and the fall of the notes! At once I knew what the person was like. Sounds, the intonation of human speech, indeed of every living being, have had for me the deepest truth… You see, these melodies are windows into peoples’ souls…”

 

Leos Janacek (Uncollected essays on music)

 

SYNOPSIS

from a workshop at Athens Conference 2001

 

Our collaborative work in this seminar aimed to communicate to participants the experience and methodology of “theatrical synthesis”. This method of dealing with the special field of “theatre and drama in education”, does not particularly go along the lines of creating big theatre productions in the schools; on the contrary, it considers theatre as a means of study and research in many directions and tries to stimulate childrens’ imagination and creativity through compound motives: improvisation, theatre games, role plays, simulation games, music, scenery, physical movement and above all, poetry of great writers: Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Kornaros (Greek poet of Renaissance), Lorca and representative scenes from their plays were studied in this seminar.

 

Now, how does music contribute to this pedagogic task?

 

Historically, music had always been relating to and co-operating with poetry and drama. In ancient Greece few challenged the primacy of poetry. Every self-respected poet-composer should fit his melodization (μελοποιία, art of constructing melodies for the verses), to the word accents, which designated different levels of pitch, as well as to the rhythm of the syllables. Every melodization – in order to be moral – should consider strictly the objective melodic-rhythmic diagram of spoken language (called “λογώδες μέλος”, or melody of speech by Aristoxenos, 301b.C.), underlying the undeniable relationship between spoken levels or contours of pitch and melodic form.

 

As far as speech melody, rhythm and melodization are concerned, very interesting links can be traced between ancient greek drama and folk traditional songs -especially in Balkan countries- given that very many of these songs, indeed, respect the “λογώδες μέλος”. This fact gives evidence of music’s perpetual dimension and connects all different means of musical expression that history has registered to an everlasting continuity.

 

The art of melodization on the “λογώδες μέλος”, passed to Europe mainly through “recitativo”, a form of declamatory speech-like singing, served for dialogue or narrative. Through renaissance and baroque periods, the art of composing for theatre text, followed a slightly different principle: music no longer described the texture of the speech (“λογώδες μέλος”), but the meaning of the verse.

 

These methods of composing inspired the most eminent drama writers, musicians and poets up to the 20th century, always functioning under one essential condition: in order to be meaningful, music for the theatre should first discover the “inner movement”, the hidden activity of every idea, feeling, thought, meaning, or even word of any theatrical character and then transmit it through rhythm, melody etc to a physical activity, to an outer movement.

 

Considering all the above mentioned facts, our main subjects for research along the lines of theatrical synthesis and especially music, were among others:

  • Common roots of ancient greek drama, folk song and universal theatre. How do we trace them, in which way can we use them for theatre in school?
  • Music to express: either texture of spoken language (“λογώδες μέλος”), or meaning of the verse. How do we encourage school children to compose in these two ways for their theatre activities?
  • Music is experienced not as sound, but as echo of an inner movement, which hides itself between the lines of a character. How do we conceive its existence? What kind of exercises can lead us to this direction?

 

If these ideas could hopefully reach to methods for a fundamental simplicity and natural expressiveness in the field of theatre and drama in education, the aims of “theatrical synthesis” as method and path for research, would considerably be fulfilled.

 

 

Smaro C. Gregoriadou Athens,

December 2001