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An Evening of Greek Theater

One play explores the depths of darkness and tragedy. The other playfully undermines our expectations of love and war. To create music for both Oedipus Rex and Lysistrata, performed in the same evening, was both a challenge and a delight. Work on this project began in the summer of 2019, with careful readings of both plays and a bit of background research on music in ancient Greek theater. Our Heidelberg production made its debut in October of the same year.

What do we know about the use of music in Greek theater? Not a great deal, as it turns out, but it is known that music was featured quite prominently. We also know that music was very important in Greek society in general; so many of their discoveries live with us into present times, from scale construction and other matters of music theory to the development of modern instruments. Two of these ancient instruments have influenced my work in this score. Through reading and YouTube demonstration videos, one can learn about the aulos, a double-reed instrument that was often used in ceremonies that invoked Dionysus, the god of wine, dance and unrestricted emotions or the lyre, a precursor of the modern harp, an instrument that invoked Apollo, the god of the sun, rationality and order. Both make their appearances in various ways throughout both plays.

Oedipus is a symbol of order and control; at the same time, his passions, and his need to uncover forbidden knowledge lead to his downfall. His Apollonian side is represented by a harp-like motive, heard throughout the play in various ways. The aulos, which will sound somewhat like an English Horn, is used to accompany various passages when the Chorus is performing, as per tradition. Music is used to underscore selected speeches and passages from Oedipus, Jocasta and the Chorus, among other important players. The story of Oedipus is dark and tragic; the music reflects this reality but will hopefully bring its own warmth and humanity to the proceedings.

Director Stephen Svoboda opted for a very modern and daring adaptation of Lysistrata, that classic tale of a bunch of determined women who wish to free their husbands of their war-mongering tendencies by withholding sex. The script the director Stephen Svoboda selected for this production was wild and off-the-charts; what a change from the more austere Oedipus! I decided to treat the entire play like an elaborate Saturday Night Live comedy sketch. The aulos sound from Oedipus is replaced with an alto saxophone, much more appropriate to the spirit of this daring tale. The lyre makes an occasional appearance here and there, but this is not a play about order and logic, but love, passion, and sex!

My thanks to Stephen, his production team, and a fine cast and crew for allowing me to contribute to this challenging evening at the theater.


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