Magazine article American Harp Journal

The Universal Lyre: Three Perspectives

Magazine article American Harp Journal

The Universal Lyre: Three Perspectives

Article excerpt

PEOPLE are often entranced by the harp for its mystical sound and image, hearkening J. back to the most ancient of times. Whether we realize it or not, the harp's roots lie deep within our collective consciousness worldwide. The instrument touches us in dual fashion, both in body and soul. The harp or lyre may be found in very similar form across the Middle East, Greece and Africa. Everywhere they have been found, the instruments have been used to address the sacred and the secular throughout the ages. Note that "harp" and "lyre" will be used interchangeably here as many construction and playing techniques are similar as is the use of the instrument.

Three Artist-Scholars

Three contemporary artists are involved in the field of ancient lyre reconstruction. Each one is obviously proud of his different heritage: Ethiopian, Greek and Jewish, and it is through this profound appreciation of their own cultures that they touch upon the universal connections between us all.

Temesgen Hussein of Ethiopia (http://www. has perhaps the most immediate relationship with the ancient harp/lyre, having learned the krar and begena (lyres) from age nineteen in traditional aural training directly with teachers Alemayehu Fanta and Teshome Shenkute of the Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa. A trained architect, Temesgen is also an innovator, bringing his instruments into our era via fusion projects incorporating reggae, jazz, and Indian music and a patent-pending series of improvements to krar construction and tuning. He plans to open a school for krar and begena. Besides his many recordings, Temesgen has instructional DVDs for krar and begena, with additional titles in the works. He is also a source for people looking to purchase these instruments.

Michalis Georgiou of Cyprus (http://terpandros. com/) is steeped in that island's ancient, always visible history, and over twenty years ago moved into the world of instrument reconstruction. Already a lifelong musician, Georgiou took to his workshop to recreate ancient Greek instruments. H has built more than twenty-three different types of stringed instruments, many of which can be classified as lyres. He has also formed a large award-winning student-based orchestra to perform reconstructions of ancient music on these instruments, leading to:

   ...the creation of Terpandros, named after the great musician of
   antiquity. It is a non-profit institution with specific aims; the
   reconstruction of ancient Greek musical instruments, the study,
   revival and projection of ancient Greek music, and finally research
   on subjects that are related to Greek civilisation. I have
   personally undertaken the reconstruction of the ancient
   instruments, the activities of Terpandros. Other members of the
   research team are working on Greek philosophy, ancient Greek
   discourse and its pronunciation, mathematics and their relationship
   with discourse and music, performance of ancient Greek music, and
   the writing of a book for the teaching of ancient Greek music. The
   holding of seminars, concerts and other events is also one of the
   main activities of Terpandros.

I had the pleasure of playing on some of these exceptionally beautiful instruments one magical evening at Georgiou's house in Nicosia, Cyprus. As others who were there experienced as well, it was as if the centuries melted away and an old, familiar voice spoke with us again.

Finally we meet Michael Levy of the United Kingdom (, whose explorations into his Hebrew roots via klezmer fiddle eventually led him to dedicate himself to the ancient biblical lyre, in particular its playing techniques:

   ... my musical exploration of antiquity began in 2006, when I
   discovered that over 2000 years ago, it was my very own, very
   ancient Levite ancestors who actually played the ten-string
   Biblical lyre (the "kinnor") in the Temple of Jerusalem to
   accompany the singing of the Levitical Choir--my quest to revive
   the lost lyre playing techniques of antiquity, for me, has simply
   got to be the ultimate in "roots music! … 
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