Sunday, 28 November 2021

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Ancient Music: A Panoply Interview with Aliki Markantonatou

We're delighted to be talking to Aliki Markantonatou, an artist and music teacher based in Athens, in Greece. Aliki trained at the National Music Academy before specialising in ancient style music. We recently had the pleasure of working with her when she recorded Sappho Fragment 44 for the Our Mythical Childhood project. Aliki talks to us today about the lyre, ancient music, and cross-cultural collaboration...

1) What attracted you to ancient Greek music?
I studied piano and Western music, but I was feeling that I was missing something. Soon, I started listening to our traditional music and ethnic groups from all over the world. It was back in 2004 that I came across the lyre, and started experimenting and, a little later, playing my music on it. The need to use poetry arose and the ancient Greek poets, such as Sappho and Alkman offered me amazing lyrics of beauty. But the turning point was when I met Dr Chrestos Terzes and I realised that, yes, the ancient sound can be approached and reproduced. I was also lucky enough to attend three short seminars with Dr Stefan Hagel, and since then my interest in ancient Greek music became realistic, and not just wishful thinking. My mother is a passionate Classicist and the lullabies and fairy tales she was narrating to us were all fragments from Homer, Aesop, lyrical poetry and so on. I think that this was crucial for me to feel that antiquity is close to my heart.
Above, Aliki and other musicians at a performance of the Orphic Hymn to Hera at the Heraia festival at the Pythagorion, Samos 2016.

2) You create many projects and collaborate with different musicians. Could you tell us how you work together with other musicians and what you do?
I feel very lucky to have met so many amazing musicians and personalities because of the lyre. I participate regularly with the Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody female ensemble, and I've performed and recorded music with Turkish musicians, Chinese, Swiss and Indian among others. The way I view the lyre is that, besides ancient Greek music, it can exist in harmony with all kinds of traditional instruments and it can be integrated in modern soundscapes. What I usually do is to study the style of the musician I am going to collaborate with and the scales of the tradition that he or she carries. The lyre is very flexible in tuning. Once I tune on the right notes, I am ready to follow and exchange musical phrases with the other artist. My main focus is to create a conversation between the instruments. As for Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody, that is my main band, all of us create music and we work on Greek traditional songs, ancient poetry set to music and fresh compositions.

3) Your recording of Sappho 44 for Animating the Ancient World within Our Mythical Childhood has been such a great success. How did you work with Professor D'Angour's score to create the sound-scape?
That was really an amazing project, I enjoyed every moment of it! Professor D’Angour did the arrangement for the first verse, and offered me through Skype and emails all the information I needed to proceed and set to music the other three verses. He sent me the text explaining word by word the rhythm that was hidden in the vowels, the notes of the scale I could use, the proper pronunciation and instructions of what I should avoid. In the same time, he was open to my ideas and was very helpful with all the questions that arose. When I finished the first recording I sent to him and I still remember the relief I felt when he answered, yes, everything is in place….Then it was just a matter of making it really a nice piece, and I would like to thank here the amazing sound engineer Nenad Radosevic, who is always next to me with patience and ideas.

4) Could you tell us a bit about the lyre that you play?
The lyre I play is made by the luthier Nicolas Bras, who is famous for his excellent violins, cellos and all kind of repairs on instruments. It is a pretty long one, closer to varvitos (or barbitos) sound than the lyre. It has a large soundbox and 12 strings. For ancient pieces I use only 9 strings. For Greek traditional songs and other kind of music 12 strings are very helpful. I tried many combinations of strings and it took me some years to find the ideal one. I use guitar strings for the high notes and gut for the lower. It is a vintage, for sure, that can be arranged according to the project. I use a cardio mic for concerts and usually I attain wonderful sound. Still, when I can play in a place with natural amplification, such as churches, I prefer no mics.
Above, Aliki Markantonatou with her lyre.

5) With Lyre n' Rhapsody you collaborate with Meet Culture in a cultural exchange between Europe and China. What have you learned from each other?
This cultural exchange has been so deep. I could never guess the depth when it started. We were invited by Miao Bin and Eley Yuan, the founders of Meet Culture, to participate in a crossover album. Their close friend, Jang Jing, a world famous Guchen (Chinese santoor) musician received as a gift our first CD, Awakening of the Muse. She shared with us that she was playing it repeatedly until she made up her mind to visit Athens with Jang Di - an amazing Xiao flutist - and record with us. We were listening to their music for some months to get in tune; and when they arrived, we were ready. The recording happened in 5 days. We recorded 20 tracks, all of them beautiful. We chose the 10 best for the album Aegean. We learned that language is not important, just flow with the sound, trust the moment and play when is needed. We learned that we share the same dreams and can enjoy friendship with a glass of wine having Greek or Chinese food. A strong bond developed and the feeling of family is there when we meet. We joke with each other, share our problems and help and support each other. Meet Culture organised a tour in and around Shanghai for all of us and two performances in Athens. The joy of that trip and the wonderful people we met is beyond words. Elegance, care, passion, generosity, kindness to name a few. And then another surprise occurred! Discussing the poetry of ancient Chinese and ancient Greek poets we found so many things in common, we could not resist. We created a performance in which ancient Chinese and Greek poems interact, one after the other in a dialogue of similar ideas and values. It was not easy to do all this translation, but was worth it, and I can assure that you can find many poems in similar forms between these two nations.
Above, the poster for Meet Culture's celebration of ancient Greek and ancient Chinese music and poetry.

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
What a wonderful opportunity to praise Pericles!!! As an Athenian woman I enjoy Acropolis energy and light! Athens wouldn’t be what it is if the area around Acropolis did not exist. It would be just another town… But, now is an amazing town!!! When I feel tired or sad, I just stroll around Acropolis and feel refreshed and encouraged - thanks to this wonderful soul who managed to challenge the citizens to create this beauty! Thanks to this wonderful soul who offered equality to his spouse Aspasia, and respected democracy, I am enjoying my life in Athens, me, one person out of million people who live here and are showered by the grace of the golden ages. I am always amazed by what Pericles inspired in so many generations!

Many thanks to Aliki for these fascinating insights. Below you'll find some further examples of Aliki's performances and her interview with a Greek lyre-maker working with traditional techniques.

Above, from the 2016 Aegean Music Tour in China.

Above, Meet Culture's Greek and Chinese collaboration on a performance of The Iliad.

Above, a Meet Culture interview in which Aliki Markantonatou talks to lyre-maker Yiannis Stathakos in Xerokampi, near Sparta, about traditional lyre-making techniques.

You'll find more videos of Aliki's performances on her website:
and on Meet Culture's site:

Sunday, 25 April 2021

New Animation Extravaganza!

Hooray for new animations! We are delighted that we have new animations for you – all the videos made for the Our Mythical Childhood project are now online! You can find them on their own page on the Panoply website: . There are five new vase animations: Sappho 44, Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar, Dionysus, Libation, and Iris- Rainbow Goddess. There are two mini-documentaries: About Sappho 44 and About Heracles, and a brand new recording of Sappho 44 sung in ancient Greek by Aliki Markantonatou according to the score written by Prof. Armand D'Angour – a version of the tune that the poem would have been sung to in antiquity. You will also fine a wealth of bonus material – information about the vases and the animations, downloadable information and activity sheets, and PowerPoint presentations to help integrate the animations into lessons and lectures. We hope you have fun exploring these resrouces and trying them out.

Above, Panoply's Sonya Nevin concentrating hard during the online launch of the Our Mythical Childhood animations and Panoply's new partnership with the Cambridge Schools Classics Project.

Many thanks to everyone who attended or spoke at the launch event for the videos. In addition to introductions to the videos, we heard from Our Mythical Childhood Principal Investigator Professor Katarzyna Marciniak, from Lisa Hay, Olivia Gillmann and Rob Hancock-Jones on their pioneering teaching with Panoply vase animations, and from Head of CSCP Caroline Bristow about where the OMC animations, videos and other resources can fit into the UK and Irish curriculums. It was great to see lots of positivity and creative teaching practice.

This event also marked the launch of our new partnership with the Cambridge Schools Classics Project - a long-standing organisation at the University of Cambridge committed to supporting classics teaching. In due course, CSCP will be hosting our website - it will remain at the same address but will get a revamp and some extra materials. More on that as it happens. All the Our Mythical Childhood materials will soon be available on the Our Mythical Childhood website too – where you'll also find links to the other supercool projects under the OMC banner.

As you've reached the Panoply blog, I'm going to take the opportunity to point out some of its highlights. You can explore simply by scrolling through or using the Labels on the right of the page, but to jump straight in, you might fancy:

Ancient pottery meets ancient theatre, an interview with Dr Rosie Wyles

On Greek Myth Comix, by classics teacher and comic-maker L.E. Jenkinson-Brown

Symposiums, an interview with vase king Prof. Sir John Boardman

On Ancient music, an interview with Prof. Conrad Steinmann, who provided music for the OMC animations Dionysus, Libation and Iris.

You'll also find discussions of events, vases, and other art related to classical culture, such as:
Black and White Andromeda - a discussion of the representation of the Princess of Ethiopia, from ancient vases to modern young people's literature.
Happy Birthday Panoply - a potted history of our adventures with vase animations.

The Force Awakens Greek Vase Scenes - a look at Star Wars-Greek Vase fan mash-ups.

A big thank-you to everyone who has contributed to creating the Our Mythical Childhood videos. We hope you have a great time using them.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

New Talks, New Animations, New Books

Good news vase fans! Lots of interesting things coming up. It is finally the time to launch online the new animations that we've been making for the ERC-funded project Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. They'll be launched at a free online event on Saturday 24th April. This event will be an interesting and enjoyable affair. Along with the animations there'll be short talks about them, presentations from teachers who have been trialling them in the classroom along with their bonus resources, a performance of ancient music, and a chance to see the short 'About' videos that accompany the animations. Registrations can be made here: Pop back here soon (or keep your eye on our FB page) for more info on the schedule.

You might notice that the booking page is a University of Cambridge address – that's because (*drumroll*) the Panoply Vase Animation Project is going into partnership with the university's Cambridge Schools Classics Project (CSCP: They've been supporting classics teachers for many years and we're pleased that this partnership will help us to help teachers more than ever. Our website will be migrating to CSCP (still at the same web address tho), so look forward to a new layout and cool new materials. In anticipation, here's the Iris animation, which got a forward release:

There will be an even earlier opportunity to hear Panoply's Dr Sonya Nevin talking about 'Beauty and Heroism' in the animations. Sonya will be giving a talk at 4pm GMT Wednesday 17th March as part of the University of Reading's Heroic Beauty: Beautiful Heroism series. The link to the talk and info about other talks in the series can be found here
In other good news, Sonya's book, Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare is coming out in paperback after going down well in hardback. It's published by Bloomsbury and available at: Take a look! This coincides nicely with Sonya completing her second book - a deep dive into the Battle of Marathon - why it happened, what happened, and how it influenced society in the weeks, years, and then centuries after the battle. More on that as things unfold, and a high-five to everyone at Bloomsbury who have been so supportive during the writing of the book.

Hope to see you at the talk on Wednesday and for good times in April.