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Photos courtesy of: Google Images. Each photo is a representation of the Aulos, a flute-like instrument popular in Greek theatre as well as religious processionals and ceremonious events.


Week One.

Aristophanes' Birds
Meineck, Peter. Aristophanes 1. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1998. pg. xxviii, 2-122.


The music in the Old Comedies of Aristophanes were important because the song and dance by the chorus and characters helped involve the audience. The audiences at these plays were loud and responsive. They cheered, groaned, gasped, applauded, etc (5). The songs and actions of the chorus in birds was probably a sight to see, with exaggerated dance movements and expressions. The music, especially in Birds highlighted their part. They danced around and moved as birds, they sang like birds, they used the music to help with the illusion. It helped remind the audience that they were at a theater. The Hoopoe uses song to call his wife and all the other bids to his presence. In the play Birds, when the birds get excited or angry they use song, like when they were appalled that there were humans in their presence and sang “Catastrophe! Treachery and Treason” (291). Makemedo uses song to convince the birds to follow him in line 524, “Once you were holy, you were lords of this place” (304). The music helped keep the audience’s attention through the entire performance.


Music played an important role in viewing Chaplin’s short films. With no dialogue to listen to, the viewer watches the scenes and plot unfold with only a few sound effects on top of a musical score that accompanies in the background. The music effectively changes the mood in the transitions between scenes.

In “The Count,” as Chaplin sits at the upper class dinner table, the viewer barely notices the classical music in the background. But when the dancing starts, the music comes forward and becomes essential to the portrayal of the scene as a waltz begins. It changes yet again when the exotic dancer that distracts Charlie moves through the screen. Whenever the dancer is present, the music changes to that more appropriate for an exotic dancer, and adds to the humor of it all as the music and dancer leads him along until she walks off, returning to the less noticeable background music and freeing Chaplin from her spell.

Another good example of music adding to the overall presentation of the short film is in “Easy Street.” The music noticeably shifts between scenes in the mission at the beginning to the fights taking place on Easy Street. The music shifts from a slow, sad, desperate sound to a more energetic, quick, fighting style as the scene shifts. It also helps portray the chase scenes in any of Chaplin’s movies, being light and quick as Charlie flees for his life. In non-fighting scenes, the music helps bring the sad and desperate scene with all the little orphans to a comical one, as the music lightens up, along with some well placed sound effects, as Charlie feeds bird seed to the kids.

The background music is more similar to Aristophanes. The background music is used by both Aristophanes and Chaplin to convey emotion. It brings the mood of the scene out and helps compliment what the actor is trying to accomplish. It keeps the audience on the same page with their interpretations of what is going on.

Week Two.

Menander's Dyskolos
Miller, Norma. Menander Plays and Fragments. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1987. pg. 3-50.

Singing and dancing were reduced to a performance which acts as a king of living curtain. Menander used a consistent structure for all of his plays with choral interludes separating the 5 Acts of the play. He used their interludes as veritable intermissions, while Aristophanes had more of an active role for the songs. He used the music to help pull the audience along the storyline and keep them actively involved. The music Menander used was to be enjoyable for the audience, but it was not geared to support or reinforce the plotline of the play.

"It Happened One Night"

The background music of the movie was effectively used, like in the Chaplin movies, to make transitions through scenes and the mood that was supposed to be reflected. For example, the live music that took place on the bus, helped convey a comfortable and "at ease" feeling the two lovers were beginning to experience, as well as the mood of the other passengers on the bus. The music helped the characters feel better and not worry about the troubles that could happen on the road. With nothing better to do on the bus ride, one might as well sing. The music involved the actors and the audience all at once. The song is a familiar one and easy to recognize. Even if you have never heard it before, the first time you hear the chorus, you know the words and can sing along the next time it comes around. Miss Colbert appeared to not be familiar with the song at first, but was singing along with everyone by the end. It did not act as a curtain, like the music in Menander did, but it was a small break in the plot line that helped portray the feelings of Peter and Ellen. The bond between them was growing stronger. The sly twist about this scene is that the song that they are singing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" is about a very suave man who steals away another man's female companion. Here is the first verse and the chorus:

Once I was happy,
But now I'm forlorn,
Like an old coat
That is tattered and torn;
Left in this wide world
To weep and to mourn,
Betrayed by a maid in her teens.

Now this girl that I loved,
She was handsome,
And I tried all I knew
Her to please,
But I never could please her
One quarter so well
As the man on the flying trapeze.

Oh, he floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
This daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
My love he has purloined away.

If you make a direct connection between the song and the story, you would find that Peter is the man on the flying trapeze. It is as if the song is being sung from King Wesley's point of view. I also love the lyrics to the third verse which include:

Oh, I wept and I whimpered,
I simpered for weeks,
While she spent her time
With the circus's freaks.

They refer directly back to Ellen's experiences with the lower class citizens in rural America with Peter.

Photo acquired from http://www.murphsplace.com/lombard/images2/1night.jpg

In the scene of the movie, represented by the above picture, a little song is written in for comical purposes. Peter begins to sing "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf" while Ellen changes into pajamas and refuses to talk to him while she is doing so. The song helps portray the wolf character in cartoons that drool and howl at the sight of a pretty woman as well as ridicule Miss Andrews for her naive, uppity nature. The comedy comes in because of the blanket, which seemingly restrains Peter from becoming this wolf. He is not, at this point, interested in Ellen, and is poking fun of her and the fact that she is worried about being in the company of a man.

The use of background music and specific songs to enhance the story line is similar to how Aristophanes used music. In his ancient plays, Aristophanes used specific songs sung by the chorus to help portray a point in the play or situation. Music could have been played in the background by the orchestra on flutes and aulos. Menander used music as kind of an interlude, but Aristophanes' music and the specific songs in It Happened One Night reflect what is happening with the characters. It develops each scene further.

Week Three.

Plautus's Use of Music
Richlin, Amy. Rome and the Mysterious Orient Three Plays by Plautus. University of California Press, 2005.

Plays written by Plautus were performed in ancient Rome were accompanied by the cantica (chorus/orchestra) for a large portion of the play. The style of the usage of the cantica was only bound by two general rules. Accompanied and unaccompanied scenes alternated and plays always ended with accompaniment. Others rules that he tended to follow seemed to revolve around the plot. More serious or unsympathetic characters were rarely accompanied. Scenes of great emotion were accompanied. And passages where the audience learns something important are usually unaccompanied. He would also switch back and forth between the two to marks crises in his plots. At times Plautus would use music to call attention to similar or contrasting points in the plot by repeating musical refrains. Accompaniment was also used to split portions of plays or entire plays into major units of action.


Photo of an Ancient Roman Cantica acquired from http://www.murphsplace.com/lombard/images2/1night.jpg


In general, Plautus uses music to help the story along, keep the audiences’ attention, as well as giving insights and information that influences the feelings towards a certain character. In the translation we read, the characters would sometimes break out in a rap song, and rap their lines. The music was meant to not only push the boundaries, rap was chosen in this particular translation to try to reflect the mixed feelings the music and the play itself would have gotten from the diverse crowds that witnessed the productions. How to react to a certain character’s actions, or lines was helped along with the music. The audience would be drawn in by the song, and reacted with the mood the song portrayed, which is ultimately what the author wanted you to feel about the character.

The main difference between how Plautus used music, and how Aristophanes used music is that the music Plautus uses are used as more of an aside. The actor would make a comment, rapping, singing, or just speaking, aside from the conversation or action going on at the moment. It could be used to explain what just happened, something about to happen, or just to convey the actor's feelings to the audience apart from the rest of the play. Aristophanes used the chorus, with many actors singing to the audience. Aristophanes did have some solo sections for one actor to sing, like Plautus, but the chorus songs were used more often.

Most of the ancient plays we read used similar meters. The iambic and trochaic meters are the most common. The iambic meter is a foot of two syllables, a short followed by a long in quantitative meter, or an unstressed followed by a stressed in accentual meter. We can see this style in the Plautus play Iran Man. At the beginning of act one, around line 1, a little note off to the side of the text says iambic octonarii and septinarii. This means that the iambs, the foot of two syllables, usually come in a set of eight or seven for the meter. Especially in Plautus, Trochaic is another style used quite often. This style is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, or of a long syllable followed by a short syllable. This style is seen in the beginning of act one in the same play, around line 25.

Aristophanes usually used some form of iambic meter. Iambic trimeter is used quit a bit in the prologues and episodes of his plays. A trochaic meter is seen in in the chorus of the play Birds in lines 1470-92,1553-64, and 1694-1705.



Music in "Road to Morocco"

The music in the movie “On the Road to Morocco” plays the same role as in any movie. The background music helps key the audience into how they are supposed to act and react to what is going on in the movie. For example, the music becomes mysterious and mystical when the ghost of Aunt Lucy appears to both Hope and Crosby. The music also plays on the ethnicity of the setting of the movie. The dance scenes and when the characters are in the palace. The music tries to portray the feel of the culture. When Hope and Crosby were about to storm the tents on their rescue mission, the background music became ominous, but only for a short while.

The music was different that most feature films today because of the duets and singing that took place in the script. The familiar duet at the beginning of the movie, when the two friends are “Off on the Road to Morocco” helps show the audience the bond between the two characters. They have been in similar situations together before, and this is just another adventure. It also helps keep the audience light hearted and happy. The styles of the two singers are different from each other as well, which adds another level of entertainment. The audience gets to see Crosby sing in his “crooning” style and win the heart of the beautiful princess. The comedy is very music oriented, much like that of Aristophanes and the other ancient play-writes. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when the three main actors are in the desert sing a trio of sorts, only none of them have the correct voice. First Hope has the voice of the woman, then she has Crosby’s, voice etc. The music helps carry the plot line and is a very important part in the story.



For questions or comments, please contact John Gruber-Miller