by Bob Gonzalez, founder
Introduction to Rhapsodes, Rhapsodies, Rhapsodizing, and Rhapsodics
Ancient Greek Rhapsodes
In ancient Greece, rhapsodes (also called rhapsodists) performed the poetry of Homer and Hesiod, sacred classics to that society. Rhapsodes were “song-stitchers” in that they would “stitch” together passages from the longer epics of Homer and Hesiod and improvise their own words in between them. In general terms, a rhapsody is an ecstatic expression of feeling and enthusiasm. In music, a rhapsody is an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation. These meanings derive from the practice of rhapsodes creating their performances from an eclectic collection of poetic passages of their great national poets and adding their own introductions, transitions, and commentary.
Contemporary rhapsodes, as I see them, perform classic poetry. Poetry in the public domain – poetry from the early part of the twentieth century and before – often remains, at best, silently sequestered in the pages of anthologies and collections stored on bookshelves. The role of the rhapsode is to bring these vibrant, sensuous, musical, and philosophical treasures to life vocally and bodily. I see poems as musical or dramatic scores. Both are codes for performers; works of music and theatre are not meant to be silently read by their intended audiences. They wait to be performed by their intelligent and skilled interpreters. In like manner, many great literary poems wait to be performed – voiced and embodied by rhapsodes. As many poets and teachers of poetry agree, poems better approach their potential as musical, emotional, intellectual texts of influence when they are spoken aloud. They best approach that potential and greater connection with audiences when they are performed dramatically, with full attention to and best realization of the music, imagery, story, drama, argument, senses, and emotions contained therein.
My purpose is to revive the role of the rhapsode in contemporary society by performing the great classics of English language poetry and by encouraging others to do the same by instructing rhapsodes, organizing troupes of rhapsodes, producing rhapsodic events (rhapsodies), and in general creating and supporting the performance of classic English language poetry throughout the English speaking world. As I am only fluent in the English language, this non-commercial, cultural initiative, Rhapsodize, centers only on the performance of poetry in English. However, I am very interested in helping others in their creation of rhapsodic activity in other languages.
I seek to rhapsodize. I seek to discover, encourage, and educate rhapsodes. I seek to popularize the art of rhapsodizing, trusting that audiences for poetic rhapsodies will grow as more and better rhapsodizing circulates throughout the English speaking world.
I seek effective venues for rhapsodies. For live rhapsodies, the most obvious venues are theatres, libraries, schools, bookstores, museums, coffeehouses, and community centers, but any empty space with room for an audience will do. Recorded rhapsodies can be dispersed over the internet via podcasts, YouTube, blogs, and websites.
My arena is the theatre and communication. My training is in acting and speech for the stage: teaching, performing and directing the works of Shakespeare and other poets and playwrights of musical and heightened language. I bring a theatre practitioner’s practical sensibilities to the performance of poetry. As it is necessary to make the plays of Shakespeare and other classics intelligible, relevant, and exciting to contemporary theatre audiences, so it is vital for rhapsodes to do the same for classic poetry. Audiences of the present day are often blocked from entering into the beauty of classic poetry because they live in an era far removed historically and culturally from that in which the poetry originated. They likewise are impeded from simply deciphering classic poetry because of its archaic vocabulary. It is then the duty of rhapsodes to bridge those gaps of history, culture, and vocabulary in their performances, for by doing so, they can succeed in vastly enriching the lives of their audiences with the wealth of their poetic heritage.
A Preliminary Vocabulary of Rhapsodics
Rhapsode – noun. a performer of classic poetry (also rhapsodist).
Rhapsody – noun. a performance or recital of classic poetry, especially, a unified collection of diverse poems.
Rhapsodics – noun. 1. the activity of rhapsodes 2. The theoretical commentary on rhapsodes and rhapsodies, parallel to poetics.
Rhapsodize – verb. to perform classic poetry.
The art, role, and duty of the rhapsode:
The rhapsode serves poets, poetry, and audience as the actor serves playwrights, theatre and audience.
The rhapsode voices the music in the language of the poem.
The rhapsode enacts the drama of the poem.
The rhapsode tells the story of the poem.
The rhapsode paints the images of the poem.
The rhapsode makes the argument of the poem.
The rhapsode embodies the sensory experiences and the emotions in the poem.
The rhapsode embodies the poet and the poem.
The rhapsode lives the life of the poem.