"In this three-part series, John Franklin, professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Vermont, explains how incomplete fragments of papyrus and stone provide clues to recreating music that hasn’t been heard for thousands of years. Discover the influence of the ancient Greeks on classical music, opera and modern jazz; and join contemporary Greek musicians and scholars as they discuss cultural and historical influences that have contributed to the music of Greece today.
Even though the Romans conquered Greece thousands of years ago Greek ideas continue to influence us today. According to John Franklin, that's particularly true in music where the ancient Greeks had an impact on the creation and development of opera, classical music and jazz. In a way, it was because of the Romans that Greek culture was preserved. The Romans borrowed the Greeks musical ideals and incorporated them into manuscripts that continued to be copied across centuries. Many of our musical terms come from the Greeks such as: symphony, chord, chorus, melody harmony rhythm, ode, stereo, mono, and synthesizer, to name a few. Imagine what it would have been like for Roman soldiers to observe a completely different culture when they invaded Greece. Why do you think the Romans became interested in the music of Greece? Imagine the citizens of Greece being vanquished and then seeing cultural aspects of their way of life being adopted by the invaders. What do you think might have been the reaction of the Greek citizenry to this new reality?

The Renaissance came after the dark ages when people looked to ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration. Latin had been in use since ancient times but Greek had been lost until the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 forcing Greek refuges into Italy where they sparked a revival of the Greek language and culture. In Florence in the late 1500’s a group of Italian composers enamored of antiquity, called the Camerata, wrote music inspired by the Greek chorus which led to the birth of opera. Why do you think Europeans at that particular moment in time would have sought out the Greek ideal as a model?

Decades of chord playing brought jazz musicians to a dead end artistically. Inspired by music theory developed by George Russell based on the ancient Greek music system of 7scales, Miles Davis wrote and released his breakthrough album Kind of Blue giving birth to modal jazz. Modern jazz musicians are still making creative use of the Greek modes in their music. Imagine that an art form that is considered to be quintessentially American can be traced back across centuries to another continent. Besides the link of Greek origins, what common thread would you find in Opera, jazz and classical music?

Modern classical musicians are also inspired by Greek culture and mythology, mining its famous tales for contemporary works. In a world premier at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Michael Daugherty set poet Ann Carson’s work Troy Jam to music. Troy Jam is a twist on The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan war. In Carson’s version the Greeks fight Troy with their instruments and music instead of weapons. If modern composers still are inspired by ancient Greek dramatic and musical structures where do imagine they will go from here for new ideas? Do you think that Greek influences can go another 2500 years into the future? Considering how swiftly technology advances what would you guess that future would look and sound like?

It’s hard to think of an area of modern life that hasn’t been influenced by the ancient Greeks. Architecture, literature, philosophy, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, and medicine all have foundations in ancient Greek culture. Think about genres of music that we haven’t discussed here, for example, country, pop, rap, rock and roll, big band, show tunes, marching band and so on. Do you imagine that there are connections to ancient Greek in these forms too? How would you go about researching that question? Many people agree that the music of ancient Greek has influenced and inspired music making around the globe and over the centuries. What do you think influenced the Greeks? Where do you think they went for inspiration? The natural world? Serendipity? Each other?"