University of Vermont

The Honors College

HCOL 196 - John Franklin's Sophomore Seminar

A Day in Introduction to Music Archeology

On the last day of Introduction to Music Archaeology with Classics Professor John Franklin, Honors College sophomores transformed themselves from music archaeology students to music archaeology professors. Their mission was simple; choose an ancient culture and find out what role music played in their daily lives, their religious rituals, or a different aspect of their lifestyle.

This is easier said than done. Over the course of the semester, students discovered that archaeologists face a daunting task of trying to reconstruct ancient cultures without a lot of records. And it can even be hard to find current research in the budding discipline of ancient musicology.

In order to enable students to make a seamless transition to ancient musicologist, Franklin spent most of the 2010 spring semester enabling his students to think about how to approach their projects. This would prove to be part intellectual adventure, part intellectual challenge. Students first learned how ancient musicologists reconstruct ancient music tradition. They then took what they learned and applied it to the ancient Greek culture, Franklin's expertise. By focusing on ancient Greek music and the role music played in ancient Greek traditions, students developed an understanding of how music archaeologists can reconstruct both the music and its meaning in an ancient society.

Ancient music reconstruction has distinguished Franklin as a leader in the emerging field of music archaeology. With a BM in composition from the New England Music Conservatory and a PhD in classics from University College London, Franklin has managed to combine his two passions into one academic discipline. During his career he's "recomposed" music in ancient Greek style for two plays, the Libation Bearers of Aeschylus and Aristophanes' Clouds. And he's released a CD of Ancient Greek music. For his class, Franklin would bring in ancient instruments, and he would play them for the students.

By going their own way and delving into different cultures, students came up with more questions than they could answer in their presentations. But armed with music archaeology theory, the students were able to think about their music, their ancient culture, and how their limited information gave them some significant insight into how people lived. One student talked about how South Indian music had a freedom of melody, and how that music was for singing praise to the Gods. Another talked about a music therapy ceremony in ancient Egypt where a person may become possessed by music. Another student studied Gagaku, a Japanese style of classical music that was performed in the Imperial Courts.

Music archaeology is a burgeoning field; the potential for new discovery hit home for some students when they realized that their project topics covered areas that did not have a lot of published research. Some students had trouble finding primary resources. Others worried that some sources were out of date (Franklin himself may have put it best when he told students, "Ten to fifteen years isn't that old for sources, it's like yesterday in Classics.") In the end, it was an experience that got students thinking some day, maybe they could contribute groundbreaking work in this area.

Last modified June 03 2010 03:18 PM