FH-26 Harp and Lyre of the Moon

FH-26 Harp and Lyre of the Moon

2014-02-27 @ 17:00 CST

A week ago this past Saturday I received the Lyre of the Moon. Last Saturday night I premiered it in public for the first time and when the video is available I’ll put it up.

As the above photo shows, the highest string broke after I tried to raise the pitch from F-G’ to G-A’. I’ve ordered replacement strings for the whole string band, including the originally planned gauge for the top string and the next thinnest gauge, but the set hasn’t arrived yet from AquilaUSA. I might have done better to order strings from Spain and I may yet. Still, I had enough strings to do something credible for the Fun Show and in fact the limitation forced me to pick music which was more appropriate for the night anyway than what I had planned (one of the Psalms in Hebrew). Here is the tuning which I chose, or what it would be were all nine strings present:


I played a combination of two songs which allowed me to use first a C tonic and then an F tonic. But last night I put the eight strings into their planned tuning and started noodling with the lyre as accompaniment to biblical psalmodia. Here is the necessary tuning with all the strings present:


The basic mode of psalmodia (if one assumes D as the tonic) is:


I chose the Lyre of the Moon because 1) its tuning allows me to support the i-iv-ii-V-i harmonic progression (in modern terms) implied by the usual psalmodic melody


The sound quality of the lyre is far different from that of the “Davidic Harp”, the lyre made by Marini Made Harps. It differs from my Dusty Strings FH-26 (now Allegro 26) significantly too. Both of these instruments have a much higher string tension. The bridge is slanted rather than straight on the Marini lyre, and the strings are vertical rather than fanned out. All this makes a considerable difference in the tone, as luthiers on the Facebook group The Lyre have noted in discussion recently. It also affects the playing style as the sustain on a Celtic harp, or on a Marini lyre, is considerably more than on the Lyre of the Moon, even though the last instrument does have both sustain and dynamics more than suitable for what I ask it to accompany.

But the Lyre of the Moon has another limitation. It is very difficult—so far—for me to do clear accidentals on it because I can’t retune the strings and I’ve yet to learn the virtuoso playing techniques used by Michael Levy and other lyre and folk harp players. And so I needed to test: is  it possible to accompany Suzanne’s psalmodia at least adequately using a lyre tuned to the fundamental mode of psalmody she inferred?

To my very great surprise, the Lyre of the Moon gave answers as to the playing style and the modality in historical performance of the Psalms at the same time. At least in psalmodia, what I found out last night allows me to solve the last big remaining problem as to how performance of the music could’ve been done using ancient instruments and techniques.


Suzanne’s accompaniments for the biblical texts are set for the Celtic harp by default. Sustained notes and intervals are thus the rule. But another consideration she used—by way of evocation, not of reconstruction—was her classical sensibility about harmony, however idiosyncratic her taste as a composer makes it. But as she notes herself, in antiquity heterophony—not the sort discussed in this Wikipedia article but the sort illustrated on the Egyptian mastabas: a parallel instrumental line setting up appropriate consonances and dissonances with the vocal line—would have been the rule, not harmony as we know it. The Lyre of the Moon (I noted very quickly after I got it) was ideal, as my Celtic harp is not, for heterophony after the antique fashion. Perhaps a comparison between this style and Suzanne’s style on the Celtic harp was in order?

Psalm 27—in the section beginning “Hear, O LORD, my voice when I call”—is in the default mode, is for solo voice, and in Suzanne’s accompanied score for voices and Celtic harp, set to D tonic. The sustain which a Celtic harp naturally gives in accompaniment colors Suzanne’s choices as a composer. But on the Lyre of the Moon an entirely different world opens up. I found that a simple but disciplined “picking technique”, playing one note at a time in set but flexible patterns, not only could accompany that portion of the Psalm very well, but it lent an intervallic and rhythmic texture which, if done on the Celtic harp, would overwhelm the transparent vocal melody.

Moreover, so far I’m finding that if one starts with a lyre tuned to the basic psalmodic mode, one may also accompany those verses in a Psalm which have accidentals or even variable degrees (lending different modes to those verses). When one had many singers and players performing, say, Psalm 148, one could have ranks of instrumentalists doing different heterophonic lines or different sections of verses in different modes as needed.

While I need to explore and define more what I’m perceiving already, I can see that for psalmodia at least, the last great barrier to demonstrating how music of this sophistication could have been performed in antiquity has been resolved in principle. All that remains is to demonstrate it in fact and in detail. Prosodia is a more complicated thing to analyze by far, but I am sure the key to accompanying it well on my lyre will come, given enough time.

(יוֹחׇנׇ֥ן רַכׇּ֖ב הַסוֹפֶֽר׃)

Categories: Ancient Music, Facebook, Internet, JRV Luthier, Luthiers, Lyre of the Moon, Michael Levy, Musicology, Psalmodia, Scores, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, The Music of the Bible Revealed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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  1. Reblogged this on The Chronicles of Johanan Rakkav and commented:

    In principle, I believe I just solved a big and very long-standing problem in historically informed performance… ::: happy dance :::

    • Teresa


    • I my dear john. Sorry I just am getting to emails. I remember lyre of moon. Which time performing this are you referring to?
      I apologize I don’t recall recent performance. But it may be escaping me. Good post and your devotion to music of bible inspires me to one day long to play harp. Hoping you’d sllow me opportunity to practice on your harp before Id spend the money, if possible, to be sure I couid learn harp before committing that kind of money.
      You’ve been my inspiration. Wish you still had harp set up I enjoyed playing when I was at your house.
      I appreciate the beauty of lure and harp.
      💝 yisraela

    • Dearest john- I coukd not understand why I was not remembering your performance two weeks ago. Sadly as I looked back, it was around begining of Feb 2014.
      Since I’ve seen all your performances since moving here, I went back noticing this was around Feb 2014. I recall now much to my relief. I enjoy your performances because I feel your heart mind and spirit in them all. I know the differences you state between Celtic harp and other lyres. I find it intriguing how much math leads us to many answers even with music. Thank you for all you’ve taught me.,it’s enruched my spirit.

  2. Pingback: THE LYRE OF THE MOON – PART 02 | The Music of the Bible Revealed

  3. You amaze me. I know God has inspired and created this wisdom in you to share. The photo looks like a musical family of love. I have learned much from you. And look forward to more. Of course not everyone could read, aspire to learning and understanding this as you. But we try. Your mind goes where no man has trod…
    Seriously I am amazed

  4. Kim

    Warm greetings Mr. Wheeler,
    I just purchased a 10 string kinnor and I don’t know anything about it. I really want to understand and learn how to play the psalms and your research I find so interesting. Can you please tell me the best tuning for my kinnor to begin learning some of the psalms you have posted on this blog? My kinnor has the bass on the right. I am afraid to unstring it and reverse the strings for a right handed player. (I was tuning it and a string broke and I couldn’t get a new one on! In had to take it to the music store and they did it for me!) If you think I should restring for a right hand then I will take it in to them and let the restring it.
    Also, my other hurtle is that I don’t know music terminology.
    Kindest regards,
    Kim (Yahaloma)

    • Dear Kim,

      You’re not the first person I’ve encountered, or who has written to me, hoping that one of the simple 10-string kinnorot available for people to buy will be adequate to accompany “The Music of the Bible Revealed”. Such people underestimate the challenges involved. The Levites spent five years learning how to sing and perform these works on a professional level. The instruments they use must’ve been more like the professional Greek kithara than like the simple Greek lyra (including my Aletheia) or like the folk-level Semitic kinnor (like my El Zurdo). Unfortunately, your instrument is probably like a simple folk-level kinnor, which means you will often have to re-tune your instrument and learn to “play around” certain notes even after you do.

      Many of the biblical melodies, like a number of the surviving Greek melodies, require one to play notes outside the basic tuning of the instrument. These days, folk harps and some lyres use sharpening levers to make this possible. We know now how the ancient Greek kithara players did it. We do not know how the ancient Levites and prophets did it with the kinnor or nevel.

      Marini Made Harps now makes lyres with sharpening levers, such as are found on Celtic harps. Nothing less will allow you to perform the biblical music (which is vocal music anyway, meant to be accompanied by lyre, not played by lyre) with any ease.

      http://www.marinimadeharps.com/davidic-16.htm (shown with and without levers)

      You don’t say who made your kinnor. All such makers I know imitate harp stringing, in which the bass string would be on the right. You couldn’t restring a Marini lyre so that the bass is on the left in any case; the bridge won’t allow that. You are best off learning to play the kinnor as if it were a Celtic harp, for that is what the makers intend. Don’t try to have it restrung. I had Aletheia specially commissioned by the maker to have the bass on the left, pursuant to historical evidence. El Zurdo is simply a left-handed lyre, as the original drawing on stone shows (barely).

      You really need to learn how to read music, including the basics of music terminology – and if you’re really going to benefit from working with Haik-Vantoura’s materials, you need to start learning Hebrew. Every little bit in that direction helps. The Sylvia Woods Harp Center sells books for beginners on the Celic harp, which can get you started on musical terms and scores.

      The problem which you bring to me is common enough – far too common – and so I plan to write a special blog post on the subject in order to save time. People buy a kinnor and soon find themselves in over their heads trying to figure out what to do with it. Learning the basics of a lyre or harp is easy. Mastering either – that takes dedication! :)

    • One more brief thing: The basic mode of biblical psalmody is equivalent to the modern E harmonic minor (ascending). (Sorry, one cannot avoid musical terms here.) On the Marini 10-string lyre, tuned middle C to high E, the tuning is as follows, right to left:

      C D# (E) F# G A B C D# E

      If you find yourself confused already, as well you might… well, that illustrates why you will need to learn enough about music to bring your lyre to its full playing potential. I returned my Marini lyre – while I had it (it was donated to harpist Greg Buchanan) – to this scale, but to play another kind of song my melodic starting point was A, not E. Here is how it sounded in live performance:

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