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Greek Music

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Music has long been a part of Greek culture. When there is a carnival, fair, religious ceremony, holiday, wedding, birthday, or any other special occasion, music is present. Music and dance have been a part of Greek culture for thousands of years. In ancient times, choruses made up of men, women, and children were formed to sing for religious rites, to perform poetry set to music for weddings and funerals, and just for entertainment. Also, each specific ancient cult devoted to specific gods would use their own unique tones and musical characteristics, creating a diverse array of ancient melody.

Two important instruments in ancient Greece were the aulos, a double-pipe, double-reed instrument, and the lyre, a plucked string instrument. The kithara was a special kind of lyre that was played mostly by professionals. Interestingly, some scholars believe that the name "guitar" comes from the Greek word kithara. Playing contests were held for aulos and kithara players. These professional musicians were highly regarded in society and were genuinely looked up to as heroes.

Long ago in Greece, boys studied reading, writing, public speaking, sports, and music in school, starting at age six. Typically, girls did not attend school and therefore did not learn the beauty of the arts. Two ancient philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, wrote about the importance of music in society and were great supporters of music education in the schools of their time. Music was also employed by the ancients in the reciting of the great epic ballads of The Odyssey and The Aenied. Children in Greece have always sung songs and played singing games. Most of these songs and games are about daily life and nature. One Greek singing game involves seeking a hidden ring. These songs and games have been passed from one generation to the next as oral traditions.

Little written music has been found from this ancient time, and we have no recordings from thousands of years ago, so people today do not know what the music of ancient Greece sounded like. Most music which has survived until today comes from relatively late periods in ancient history. Furthermore, the used the musical form of monophonic texture, meaning melody without harmony or counterpoint. Heterophony was also used in the performance, meaning an instrument would embellish upon a melody while a soloist or chorus ensemble would sing the same melody. One thing that usually remained consistent throughout ancient Greece music is that the musical rhythm was always bound to the rhythm of the poetry being recited.

Because ancient Greeks wrote about their music and music theory, we know something about them. The ancient Greeks are remembered for creating special arrangements of tones we now call the Greek modes. They were used later in religious music in Europe, and have been the basis of much Western music for centuries. The uneven meters that are still popular in Greek music date back to ancient times when Greek poetry was read in a special, rhythmical way. Instead of music notation looking like it does today, ancient Greek music notation used letters of the alphabet. When there was music and text, the alphabet-style music notation appeared above the words. There is an example of this early notation carved in stone from the second century B.C. in the Archaeological Museum in Delphi, Greece. It is a hymn sung to the Greek god Apollo.

Some Greek folk instruments are different on the mainland than they are on the islands. On the mainland, solo instruments include the clarinet, an oboe-like instrument, and the violin, and accompaniment instruments include the lute, a kind of dulcimer, and the tambourine. On the islands, solo instruments include the bagpipe, the lyra (a three-stringed, upright fiddle), and the violin, and accompaniment instruments include a small drum, two kinds of lute, a different kind of dulcimer, and a big drum hung over the shoulder and hit with a stick.

For many centuries, the only music of importance in Greece was Byzantine church music, Greek folk music, and Turkish music,

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