Thursday, 19 February 2015

The World of Ancient Music: An Interview with Prof. Conrad Steinmann

Today we’re hearing from Professor Conrad Steinmann, a musician and musical archaeologist specialising in the instruments and music of Classical Greece. Prof. Steinmann lectures at the renowned music institute, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, and leads the Melpomen Ensemble, a group who create and perform music in the classical Greek style. We love Melpomen’s music so much that Prof. Steinmann kindly allowed use it on a number of our animations, including Heracles, Sirens, and Medusa.
Prof. Steinmann talks to us here about the sounds and signs of ancient music…
(Please be aware that this interview contains an image of a human burial).

1. What sparked your interest in ancient music?
It’s my curiosity to know what we can find beyond the surface, to scratch this surface and to find a look into a space where things begin. Of course I loved always, since my childhood, the ancient Greek world.

2. You’re a musical archaeologist as well as a musician. Can you tell us a little about what musical archaeology involves?
It depends whether you focus more the musical side or rather the academic side of archaeology. I’m personally a musician with empirical experiences with deep and far going interests in history and archaeology, but my starting point will ever be music making with exactly reconstructed instruments, the sensual approach also to the music of Greece in the 6th and 5th c. BC.

3. How do you use vase iconography in your work?
Many musical scenes and musical instruments are depicted on vases. I found out that vase paintings between 510 and 480 BC show in an extremely realistic way all the details and proportions of the instruments, realistic enough to be of essential help for an instrument maker, in my case the Swiss Paul J. Reichlin.

A charming example of an ancient depiction of aulos playing.

4. Is there much difference in the representation of musical instruments between black and red figure vases?
As I said before, it’s less the difference between black and red figure vases, but much more the time period which shows useable paintings. Nevertheless it has to be said, that we have finally more red figured pottery surviving from antiquity, which serves us to give a lively impression of how instruments could have been.

A burial from Pydna which, unusually, includes a set of aulos pipes (left)

5. Playing the aulos looks really difficult; is it very different to playing other wind instruments?
Well, the aulos is definitely difficult to play and difficult to get prepared with its single reeds. Then, of course circular breathing has to be learnt as well as a special technique to articulate with the fingers instead of the tongue.

6. Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
I always liked the Athenian comedy writer Aristophanes with his specific and at the same time timeless wit and humour. As a child I admired Herakles and now, as a musician of so called Greek music, I love songwriters such as Sappho or Anakreon with their eternal beauty and wisdom.

Many thanks to Professor Steinmann for sharing his thoughts with us. For more on Melpomen and their work, visit and check out their albums, Sappho and her Time (2010) and Melpomen(2005).

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Procession and a procession of workshops

First things first, we hope you like The Procession, our shiny new animation made for the University College Classical Museum. For more information on the project in which it was developed, scroll down to the previous post.

It’s been a busy time for Panoply. Sonya was at the lovely Loughborough High School in Leicestershire talking vases and ancient warfare with their super switched on classics loving girls.

Shortly afterwards, Sonya gave a presentation for classicists, historians and theologians at the Digby Stuart research centre for religion, society, and human flourishing at the University of Roehampton. This paper was encouraging people to use vase animations or animation related activities for teaching about ancient religion – particularly about ancient depictions of gods and religious activities.

Then it was off to the East Oxford Community Classics Centre. Year 9 sessions on vases and ancient religion led to lots of great questions and great ideas. At a follow-up public kids’ session we watched The Procession, talked about gods, festivals and sacrifices, and followed up with some arty decorating of bulls heads – the perfect offering for the gods who has everything. Always plenty of ancient action at the EOCCC.

Next stop Nottingham, for a BA students’ special workshop on communicating classics. This was part of the classics department’s independent research module. Sonya outlined what Panoply have been doing over the last few years and we watched Clash of the Dicers, The Cheat, and The Procession. Sarah Cole of Time/Image talked digital projects, not least the rise of 3D printing. And John Swogger presented the very cool work he does presenting proper archaeology in comic book format: The Uni of Nottingham students will plan their own classics projects – can’t wait to see what they come up with. Great module. Thanks to Dr Lynn Fotheringham for the invite to talk.

Meanwhile work has begun on our new project; more on that soon. Our next bog will feature an interview with ancient music specialist, Prof. Conrad Steinmann.