(The beginning of this piece originally formed part of “Music of Tisha b’Av II,” https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/7-15-11-meditations-on-lamentations/, in which I reviewed some CD’s of “Lamentations” I listened to. Ideas began to occur to me. As the previous piece became too long, I decided to make these possibilities into a separate post of their own. You’re welcome to make your own suggestions, too.)
For example, why not try arranging Josephus’ account of the destruction of the 2nd Temple in a form that could be chanted using the Gregorian Chant melody that’s used for “Lamentations”? The text doesn’t have to rhyme, but could be laid out in verse form, rather than as prose paragraphs.
The Gregorian Chant melody is simple; it can be repeated; a congregation could easily learn it, especially if the verses are chanted responsively. The music would generally fit the subdued tone of the evening service and reading of “Eichah,” while differentiating musically between the destruction of the 1st Temple and that of the 2nd.
If the use of a Gregorian Chant melody is felt to be inappropriate, unwelcome, etc., I’d suggest as an alternative a melody from the Irish, Scottish or Appalachian (American) folk tradition. These melodies have a simplicity and intensity similar to Gregorian Chant, and are well-suited to be easily learned and repeated. There are almost certainly melodies that could be borrowed from the Maqamat (Middle Eastern classical music) and yogic traditions (among others), if someone is knowledgeable and/or interested enough to do so.
The hazzan or someone else who’s prepared to do so, could chant the verses responsively with the congregation; or, the hazzan and congregation can chant alternating verses, using the same melody (as we do when we chant “Ashrei”).
For a class on “Storytelling,” I once performed the song “Long Black Veil” by intermittently singing and reciting it, emulating some of the field recordings of folk music that I’ve heard. It seems to me that the same could be done with readings from Josephus: Read them aloud, with a combination of melody and spoken-word.
Or, consider reciting it using the “learning mode” with which Talmud is learned. It’s familiar to most people as the melody of the “Four Questions” on Pesach/Passover.
To hear the megillah (“Eichah”/ “Lamentations”) reading and other musical features of Tisha b’Av: