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Thinking Inside the Volumes #5

Volume V
page 114
Chorus from Sophocles' "Antigone"
Greek chorus


I don't know of anyone who doesn't get a rush from listening to Carmina Burana, Carl Orff's most famous work.  The orchestration is simple, but very thick.  A huge orchestra blankets the stage.  The battery slugs our souls with gongs, drums, clanging cymbals, and sharp xylophones.  The enormous chorus floods us with sound, primal modes course through us.  We are entranced in a primal frenzy of ancient sounds!  


This feeling is possible to capture in the classroom.  There are some skills the students must have first though.



  • They must know how to respect and care for all the instruments used
  • They must have experience with movement and dance in performance
  • They must have modal music in their ears from songs, improvisations, or creative movement
  • They must embrace the text for the Greek chorus
  • They must have a sense of community, and be capable of working together as a group
While the Sophocles excerpt on page 114 is compelling, I prefer to find a quote that the students can connect to even more.  I'm a big Harry Potter fan, the following quote begins the 7th book of that series.  Aeschylus was also a favorite poet of John F. Kennedy, the late president and famous Massachusetts native.  



 from Aeschylus'Libation Bearers:
Oh, the torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death and the stroke that hits the vein, the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief, the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house and not outside it, no, not from others but from them, their bloody strife. We sing to you, dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground - answer the call, send help. Bless the children, give them Triumph now.

On this blog of a classics buff, I found a more literal translation.  

O trouble bred in the family, and discordant bloody stroke of doom, alas woeful cares not to be borne, alas pain hard to stop!

It is for the house [to apply the] absorbent remedy for these [wounds], not from others outside, but from themselves, through savage bloodstained strife. This is a hymn to the gods beneath the earth.

But paying heed, o blessed ones under ground, to this prayer, send aid to the children, graciously, for victory.

My thoughts are to use this material with Middle School aged students.  We will play with the textures from Orff's Sophocles chorus, and go from there.  Both translations will be available to them.  They can edit according to their muse.  The important thing is a final product that will engage and excite them.  

Imagine the video below doing their pattern and they abruptly stop and one of the above paragraphs is melodramatically spoken, then the music starts up again.  Another stop, yet another paragraph.  You can have pantomime of the action during the reading or after, during the music.

There are many melodramas playing out now in the news: The accusations of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the financial crisis in Greece or Portugal or Ireland or Spain, global climate change, dictatorships in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and many many more.  Tread lightly here, you never know if you'll be stepping on toes to bring up something in the news.




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