Friday, 22 November 2019

‘The Song of Arms and a Man’ at Charterhouse

by Sheila Conway

When one of our members suggested to the committee that we find a local venue to host The Latin Qvarter’s production, ‘The Song of Arms and a Man’, we didn’t know what we were undertaking. As we understood it, we were being asked to find a venue and book hotel accommodation for the performers, then advertise the event locally and to Guildford Classical Association (GCA) members. This was what generally happened when we arranged for speakers to come and talk to our local audiences.

We contacted local schools who often host our events for us. As expected, since the performance was scheduled for a Saturday evening, day schools were unable to help. However, Charterhouse very kindly offered to host the event in their beautiful Great Hall. Their Head of Classics, Jonathan Nelmes, was enthusiastic and planned to organise a whole ‘Virgil week’ at school prior to the performance, which was to be the culminating event.

We booked accommodation nearby for the performers and thought our part in the organisation of the event was largely over, bar a bit of advertising. How wrong we were! Our real work was only just beginning. It was at this point that it dawned on us that we were responsible for pricing and selling tickets as well as all the publicity, and, most scarily, responsible for footing the bill if the event made a loss! 

As we began to comprehend just what we had undertaken, we had serious misgivings. After all, a performance of the Aeneid, much of it in Latin, has very niche appeal. How many people these days still study Latin, or feel up to a whole evening of it? Many of those for whom Latin was a fundamental part of their education are now so elderly that they think twice about going off to a performance at night, particularly at a distant venue in the countryside. On the plus side, Virgil’s Aeneid is a central part of the syllabus at GCSE, A Level and university, for both Latin and Class Civ students. And how better to get an understanding of the whole story than by watching a live performance, hearing the beautiful sonority of the Latin and experiencing at first hand the depths of emotion in this very human story? We couldn’t deny this opportunity to our local students, teachers and classics enthusiasts.

Having decided to go ahead with the venture, our next job was pricing the tickets and working out what concessions we could offer. This was much harder than it sounds. We had good estimates of costs from The Latin Qvarter and Charterhouse, but how many of our members would come? And how many local schools would arrange to bring groups of students? Would university students travel all the way from London, Reading and Southampton? In short, would we have an audience of two hundred, or only forty?

It is at this point that we were helped enormously by the Classical Association and the Roman Society, who both gave us generous grants towards the costs of the performance, and by the businessman, Richard Balfour, who very kindly agreed to underwrite the event. We are extremely grateful to all three, without whose generosity we would probably not have dared to go ahead.

It was hard work finding and approaching contacts at different universities and local organisations who might be willing to help publicise the event, as well as distributing posters and leaflets and informing our own members and local schools. George Sharpley at The Latin Qvarter was very helpful, providing an eye-catching leaflet and making sure we didn’t miss a trick on the advertising.

The performance was due to take place at Charterhouse on Saturday, 5th October. As the day approached, we were increasingly worried. Several schools which had originally wanted to bring large numbers of students were, for various reasons, unable to come. A fortnight before the performance we had still only sold about seventy tickets; we were on course to make a loss of over £2,000. Then ticket sales started to improve, and finally some schools confirmed bookings. On the night, we had an audience approaching a hundred and seventy – a record for this event. Our finances were safe, but we sold right out of programmes and had to disappoint some. 

At last the players: George Sharpley (narrator), Emma Kirkby, Victoria Punch (standing in at short notice for the indisposed Elizabeth Donnelly), Matthew Hargreaves, Llewellyn Morgan and Eileen Zoratti, assembled and the performance began. The audience was hushed and expectant as the piper, Callum Armstrong, got everyone’s attention. How exciting to hear a real aulos player! The English narrative beautifully echoed the original Latin and set the scene for the Latin extracts. It was entrancing seeing such well-known passages brought to life - acted out and performed in impressively fluent and expressive spoken Latin. 

There was a real buzz during the interval while everyone enjoyed welcome refreshments before settling down to the emotional finale of the tale. All too quickly, the performance was over, bows and curtain calls were taken, and the audience departed. As they left, we heard a huge number of compliments about the production. The audience were obviously thrilled by the performance and very glad that they had come. In that moment we knew we had been right to keep our nerve, and all the work beforehand seemed worthwhile.

Sheila Conway is the Hon. Secretary of the Guildford branch of the Classical Association.  See here for further details of  the branch.

See here for further information about The Latin Qvarter and 'The Song of Arms and a Man'. 

Friday, 1 November 2019

A summer full of Classical Civilisation

by Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson and Professor Edith Hall

From 22nd to 26th July 2019, seventeen heroic teachers participated in a summer school at KCL which included lectures and curriculum-linked activities on *every* component of the OCR GCSE, AS and A Level Classical Civilisation qualifications. Led by Professor Edith Hall and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, the week-long professional development course attracted teachers of English, Modern Languages, Drama, History and Citizenship from England and Wales. There was a range of prior experience: one participant was about to begin her teacher training degree, others were qualified teachers of non-Classical subjects and some were Classics teachers who felt they would benefit from some specialist input. 

Our KCL colleagues were exemplary. Everyone had read the OCR teaching materials carefully and delivered perfectly bespoke talks and activities. Ellen Adams showed for Homeric World the importance of thinking about the size and setting of early Greek towns; Nicola Devlin managed to pack the entire history of Greek vase-painting into 90 lucid minutes for Greek Art; Emily Pillinger enthralled on Sappho and Catullus for Women in the Ancient World and made the Aeneid’s message on migrants compelling for World of the Hero.

John Pearce showed how the Colosseum can reveal almost everything we need to know about Roman City Life; Lindsay Allen got everybody thinking like an Achaemenid Persian in Invention of the Barbarian; for Imperial Image Dominic Rathbone got us looking at Augustus in new ways; Pavlos Avlamis won the prize for Most Popular Activity when he got everyone to draw Achilles’ shield from Iliad XVIII for World of the Hero; Mike Trapp made Plato comprehensible for Love and Relationships; Hugh Bowden sorted out myth and religion for both GCSE and A Level; Edith enthused on Greek Theatre and the Odyssey, and did a double-act with Roman historian James Corke-Webster on War and Warfare. Arlene led sessions on curriculum content and resources and Roman rhetoric for Politics of the Late Republic.

There will be a legacy in the form of films of the presentations for the KCL website made by Big Face Art, with Tom Russell in charge, and in due course these and all the powerpoints and handouts will be made available on the ACE website too.

But the real efforts were made by the extraordinarily committed teachers who attended, either the whole course or parts of it: Charlotte Cannon, Will Dearnaley, Edda-Jane Doherty, Jenny Draper, Laurence Goodwin, Chandler Hamer, Rob Hancock-Jones, Pantelis Iakovou, Susan Jenkins, Jo Johnson, Lidia Kuhivchak, Jo Lashley, Lottie Mortimer, Judith Parker, Alex Rooke, Saara Salem and Helen Turner. It was a privilege to spend the week with them, and we are going to hear far, far more from them in the future!

Feedback from the teachers has been resoundingly positive:

‘Both my knowledge and my confidence have been transformed this week. Filling gaps has been invaluable and will definitely benefit my students. The comprehensive approach across all units at GCSE and A Level has allowed for flow and connections which will enrich subject knowledge as a whole. The most important thing which I’ll take away from this week is the confidence to analyse sources and structure topics. The course will change my professional practice because it will help me to make my delivery of the course better quality and more relevant to my students.’

‘My confidence has increased hugely both in terms of subject content and effective delivery of it. Since the start of the week, I have much greater awareness of the expectations of exam boards as well as resources. This course has been the key factor in my school permitting the introduction of Classics in my school. I would absolutely attend another course.’

‘This has been tremendous CPD. I feel really confident after a brilliant week.’

The summer school was made possible through generous donations from the King’s Widening Participation Fund, the King’s College London Classics Department, The Roman Society and the Hellenic Society.

The support of the Classical Association is vital in facilitating the ongoing work of the ACE project. We are indebted to the CA for its contribution and look forward to further fruitful collaboration.

The Advocating Classics Education project was awarded a major grant by the CA in 2019.  Based at King's College London and led by Professor Edith Hall and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, the project aims to extend the availability of Classical Civilisation and Ancient History qualifications in UK state schools.