the chorus

yesterday

was the last of three chorus workshops at Carver Center High School with N’s students, working on the choruses from Ted Hughes’s translation of the AGAMMEMNON. I am going to eventually write an essay about these choruses, how choral forms or devices appear in other Hughes poems (esp. in BIRTHDAY LETTERS) and on the experience of directing the choruses.

Hughes’s choruses are lineated in a very abrupt and irregular manner, but the lines have a lot of rhythmic consistency underneath that lineation. Reading to the punctuation helped: that is, we disregarded his line breaks for the purpose of speaking the text.

We used these techniques:

Day One:
(1) Assigning specific students to “lead” or be responsible for different phrases of the text, and working through the text, one section at a time, in this manner.
(2) Adding multiple voices in on top of the framework of individual students leading
(3) Discussing intention, tone, action verbs for passages (just like with a monologue)

Day Two:
Same as Day One but moving much more quickly: we got through several pages, instead of just one stanza.

Day Three:
(1) Permitted students to freely chorally improvise through remainder of chorus passage in question. Discussed results.
(2) Let individual students try their hand at directing or orchestrating passages–assigning specific words to specific students.
For example, there was a repeated line “The black bird and the white bird,” and one student asked half the students to say “The black bird” and the other half “the white bird.” This assignment of half-lines to subgroups reminded me of Homeric epithets. His innovation with this line was carried forward when and wherever the line appeared.
(3) Time running out, I encouraged the remaining students to “sketch” their ideas rather than assign them. There is a tendency to say “John, you say “The,” and Elizabeth, you say “Ship,” ” and so on, and it’s very time-consuming. But through using improv as a quick rendering device, we had time for three students to direct.

N and I discussed some, after, whether 15-year-olds are old enough to direct chorus passages themselves. It did bring out some time-wasting and arguing in the group–part of the problem may be the large size (12 students) of the group they have to control. But it was interesting to see. I think they might be able to do it effectively in smaller groups.

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