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
COMPARING SEVERAL INSTRUMENTS
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.