Lyre of the Levites: Jewish Music for Biblical Kinnor

Michael Levy

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Lyre of the Levites: Jewish Music for Biblical Kinnor

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Jewish music performed on an evocation of the 10-string Biblical 'Kinnor' - the lyre of my very own, very ancient Levite ancestors...

"Lyre of the Levites – Jewish Music for Biblical Kinnor" is the sequel to my 2008 album, "King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel". Both of these albums are dedicated to recreating again, for the first time in almost 2000 years, the mystical, ancient sounds of the "kinnor"; the ancient Jewish Temple lyre, once played by my very own, very ancient Levite ancestors in the Courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem, to accompany the singing of the Levitical Choir (II Chronicles 5:12). For myself then, putting together these fascinating musical projects have been quite literally, the ultimate experiment in recreating my own extreme “roots music”!

THE CHOICE OF REPERTOIRE FOR THE ALBUM

"Lyre of the Levites" uniquely features arrangements of primarily traditional melodies from the Jewish Klezmer repertoire arranged for solo Levitical Lyre - the concept of the musical performances on this album, are meant to be evocations, not reconstructions, of the sounds & playing techniques that were possible on the ten-stringed Kinnor of the Bible; there are sadly too few unambiguously notated melodies from antiquity to make an album of "note for note" reconstructions of ancient instrumental solo lyre music a feasible reality.

However, the traditional Jewish scales/modes in which these pieces are actually written may well have roots which stretch deeply back to these distant, mystically remote Biblical times, according to the fascinating research of the late Suzanne Haik Vantoura, in attempting to reconstruct the original 3000 year old music of the Hebrew Bible.

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    Lyre of the Levites

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    Solomon's Temple

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    The Sabbath Bride

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    Escorting the Parents of the Bride & Bridegroom

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    Greeting the Wedding Guests

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    At the Rabbi's Feast

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    We Shall Ascend to the Land

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THE ANCIENT BIBLICAL LYRE

Ancient Biblical-Themed Album

"I bought this album and I am very pleased with it. Thank you Michael Levy for sharing your talents with us. I am very blessed by this music and I feel it creates an atmosphere where I can draw near to God in holiness. The music is very special to me and I know that God has written the very chords of these melodies for the angels of God and man to enjoy. I recommend this album for anyone who wishes to create a peaceful and holy environment in the home but also to those who appreciate world music from the ancient Middle East"  

Yakov Israel - iTunes (UK) Review  
 

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The Ancient Biblical Lyre

Michael Levy

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The Ancient Biblical Lyre

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Sacred ancient melodies, performed on a replica of the 3000 year old Biblical "Nevel" Lyre (in ancient Hebrew: נבל) - once played in the Temple of Jerusalem by my Levite ancestors to accompany the singing of the Levitical choir...

This unique album is dedicated to restoring once more, the mystical sound of one of the ancient Biblical Lyres, once played over 2000 years ago by my very own, very ancient Levite ancestors, to accompany the singing of the Levitical Choir.

This particular Biblical Lyre referred to throughout the Biblical Text is the “Nevel” (in ancient Hebrew: נבל). It is mistranslated in the Old Testament as “harp” – however, there is absoutely no archeaological evidence that harp was used in ancient Israel after the end of the Copper Age, around 3200BCE. The harp as totally replaced by the more portable lyre during the Biblical Era (from about 1900BCE). This transition from the bulky harp to the portable lyre was no doubt brought about by the fact that the anciestors of the ancient Hebrews were nomadic...

My other albums avaialble from cdbaby, "King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel" & "Lyre of the Levites", are dedicated to restoring the sounds of the other type of Lyre which was also played in the Levitical Ensemble in the Temple of Jerusalem - the ancient Biblical "Kinnor."

BIBLICAL REFERENCES TO THE ANCIENT "NEVEL" LYRE

The Biblical "Nevel" is mentioned in 1 Samual 10:5, 2 Samual 6:5, Kings 10:12, Isiah 5:12, 14:11, Amos 5:23, 6:5, Psalm 33:2, 57:9, 71:22, 81:3, 92:4, 108:3, 144:9, Chronicles 13:8, 15:16, 20, 28; 16:5, 25:1, 6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 9:11; 20:28; 29:25, Neh. 12:27.

THE AMBIGUITY OF THE ACTUAL HEBREW MEANING OF "NEVEL"

Unlike the Biblical Kinnor, the exact meaning of the word “Nevel” is ambiguous, as the Hebrew root “nvl” (נבל ) can be pronounced in two different ways – either “naval” or “nevel”.

In the Hebrew language, only the consonants are written down - the vowels are added by the speaker...whih causes no end of problems once the original pronunciation of an ancient Hebrew word is lost in the mists of time! John Wheeler explains:

"Nevel is such a difficult instrument to understand precisely because

1) leather was used for soundboards both for some harps and for some lyres;

2) the root word itself has several different meanings. The name could just as well refer to a wineskin used for a soundbox, and while we don't have anything that I know of earlier than bar Kokhba illustrating that for the Hebrews, it's certainly possible given how animals' stomachs were used for other instruments"

THE TWO INTERPRETATIONS OF THE ORIGINAL MEANING OF THE HEBREW WORD "NVL" (נבל )

1) If "NVL" is pronounced “Naval”, in Hebrew this can mean “carcass”, implying that the Biblical Nevel was a lyre with a skin membrane as a soundboard (similar to the ancient Greek “Lyra” – the lyre with a tortoise shell resonator, over which was stretched a soundboard of taut animal skin).

2) The alternative interpretation, if the word is pronounced “Nevel”, means “Skin bottle”. This could mean a lyre with a regular wooden soundboard, but shaped like a skin bottle.

I believe that it is more likely that meaning (1) seems more likely from the available evidence, as discussed below - that the elusive Biblical Nevel may have been a skin-membrane lyre. The replica lyre upon which I am playing, as made by Mid East Ethnic Instruments is based on this interpretation.

HOW WAS THE NEVEL CONSTRUCTED?

The Nevel was made of the same materials as the Kinnor (the other Biblical Lyre played in the Temple of Jerusalem), namely Almug wood, (Kings 10:5), and was plucked by hand, as opposed to being plucked with a plectrum, as in the case of the Kinnor – we know this from the writings of Josephus Flavius (Antiquities vii 12.3) and the Biblical text (Amos 6:5). Josephus also describes the Nevel as having 12 strings, whereas the Kinnor had 10 strings.

THE TRACKS ON THIS ALBUM

1) Kol Nidre (Aramaic: כָּל נִדְרֵי) - The haunting ancient melody of the Kol Nidre (All Vows) prayer, traditionally sang at Yom Kippur. This haunting song is in the ancient Jewish "Ahava Raba" Mode: EFG#ABCDE. This uniquely Jewish scale may even have its origins in the music of the Levitical Ensemble in the Temple of Jerusalem, as can be heard in Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's alleged reconstruction of the original melody of the Priestly Blessing. All details can be found in the extensve "Historical Details" section of my website: http://www.ancientlyre.com

2) Psalm 114 (Ancient Traditional Melody, c. 2nd century CE) - this traditional melody sang to Psalm 114, "When Israel Went Forth From Egypt" is of great antiquity., and was preserved by both Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages, as a Sephardic cantillation (B'tseth Isra'el) & in the Roman Catholic tradition, as a Latin plainchant (In Exitu Israel).

The two chants are indentical, both musically and texturally - which could even suggest that there was an ancient common origin, before the Jewsh and Christian faiths split into separate entities..maybe even an aural memory of the orginal melody once sang by the Levitical Choir in the Temple of Jerusalem? A fascinating possibility...

3) Ma'oz Tzur (Hebrew: מעוז צור‎ )- the traditional melody to the Hanukkah song, "Rock of Ages" - The melody for this Hanukkah hymn has been identified by Birnbaum as an adaptation from the old German folk-song "So weiss ich eins, dass mich erfreut, das pluemlein auff preiter heyde," given in Böhme's "Altdeutsches Liederbuch" (No. 635). This rousing melody was widely spread among German Jews as early as 1450.

The traditional English translation is as follows:

"Rock of Ages let our song Praise thy saving power; Thou amidst the raging foes; Wast our sheltering tower

Furious they assailed us, But Thine arm availed us, And Thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us.

Children of the martyr race Whether free or fettered Wake the echoes of the songs Where ye may be scattered

Yours the message cheering That the time is nearing Which will see all men free And tyrants disappearing

Kindling new the holy lamps, Priests approved in suffering. Purified the nation's shrine, Brought to God their offering.

And His courts surrounding, Hear in joy abounding, Happy throngs, singing songs, With a mighty sounding"

4) Avinu Malkeinu, (Hebrew: אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ‎) - This timeless Jewish hymn in the ancient "Ahava Raba" mode, is tradionally sang at between Rosh Hashanah & Yom Yippur. This beautiful melody is in the ancient Ahava Raba Mode.

5) Ma Tovu ( Hebrew: מה טבו )- "Oh How Good." The translation of this beautiful Shabbat hyms is as follows:

"How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! And I, with Your great loving-kindness, shall enter Your House; I shall prostrate myself toward Your Holy Temple in the fear of You.

O Lord, I love the dwelling of Your house and the place of the residence of Your glory. Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker. But, as for me, may my prayer to You, O Lord, be in an acceptable time. O God, with Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation"

6) V'Shamru ("And They Shall Keep the Sabbath.") - This beautiful Sabbath hymn is taken directly from Exodus 31:16. Here is the translation of this traditional Shabbat Hymn:

"The children of Israel should keep the Sabbath Observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant It is a sign between G-d and the children of Israel for all time That in six days G-d made the heavens and the earth And that on the sventh day He was finished and He rested"

7) Lecha Dodi (Hebrew: לכה דודי‎ )- This Shabbat Hymn means "come my beloved," and is a request of a mysterious "beloved" that could mean either God or one's friend(s) to join together in welcoming Shabbat that is referred to as the "bride". During the singing of the last verse, the entire congregation rises and turns to the open door, to greet "Queen Shabbat" as she arrives.

8) Adon Olam (Hebrew: אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם‎; )- "Master of the Universe". This ancient Shabbat Hymn iwas alleged to be composed in the 11th century by Solomon ibn Gabirol. The word “Adon,” meaning master, was first spoken by Abraham in the Bible, referring to God. The timless text affirms God’s greatness, ominpotence and all-empowering existence:

"The Lord of the Universe who reigned before anything was created. When all was made by his will He was acknowledged as King.

And when all shall end He still all alone shall reign. He was, He is, and He shall be in glory.

And He is one, and there's no other, to compare or join Him. Without beginning, without end and to Him belongs diminion and power.

And He is my G-d, my living G-d. to Him I flee in time of grief, and He is my miracle and my refuge, who answers the day I shall call.

To Him I commit my spirit, in the time of sleep and awakening, even if my spirit leaves, G-d is with me, I shall not fear"

9) Hava Nagila (Hebrew: הבה נגילה )- "Let Us Rejoice".

10) Ashir Shirim - This ancient Babylonian Jewish wedding song, "I Will Sing Songs To God," was preserved almost a century ago by the musicologist A.Z. Idelsohn:

"Ashir shirim laél beviath hag-goél. Ayuma temima bathe ne‘ima — Hish geal na geal. Eliyahu yavo yighal, yighal."

The translation of the song is:

"I will sing songs to God at the coming of the redeemer.This terrified,innocent,& fair daughter - hurry to redeem her now. Elijah will come & she will be redeemed"

The song is in the timeless "Ahava Raba" Mode. The traditional music of the Babylonian Jews is unique, as it may well be the "Invisible Baggage" of the Jews who were sent into exile there, after the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadrezzar II, in 586BC! These melodies therefore, may be representative of the very earliest aural memory of Jewish music...from the almost Legendary Era of the Ark of the Covenant, & King Solomon's Temple!

In this song, the bride is depicted as a metaphor for Israel - just as the bridegroom "redeems" the bride by fulfilling his promise to her, so will God redeem Israel when the prophet Elijah returns to annonce the comig of the Messiah.

11) King David Danced - an exhilarating improvisation on the ancient "Ahava Raba" scale, in my attempt to evoke the Biblical account of how King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant.

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    Kol Nidre (All Vows)

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    Psalm 114 (Ancient Traditional Melody, c. 2nd century CE)

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    Ma'oz Tzur (Rock of Ages)

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    Avinu Malcheinu (Our Father Our King)

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    Ma Tovu (Oh How Good)

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    V'Shamru (And They Shall Keep The Sabbath)

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    Lecha Dodi (Come My Beloved)

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    Adon Olam (Master of the Universe)

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    Hava Nagila (Let Us Rejoice)

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    Ashir Shirim (Ancient Babylonian Jewish Wedding Song)

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    King David Danced (Improvisation on the Ancient Jewish "Ahava Raba" Mode)

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King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel

Ancient Biblical-Themed Album

"Like a Time Machine...

Michael Levy is a contemporary man with a psalmist's touch, and best of all, he's conversant with a historical instrument. There's no longer a need to imagine the soothing music young David might played in the courts of King Saul. It's here. Michael Levy's hard-won ability to channel musical history is uncanny and goes beyond the obvious scales and period melodies. His work is the kind of magic that happens when the right kind of musician immerses him of herself into a cultural or spiritual music"

Phil Christensen - iTunes (USA) Review

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King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel

Michael Levy

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King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel

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Restoring once again, the Mystical, Meditative, Healing, Haunting refrains of the 3000 year old Lyre of the Ancient Hebrews. Voyage with me now, on a "Musical Adventure in Time Travel", to hear once again, the Ancient Echoes, of King David's Lyre. . .

INTRODUCTION

Both my CD albums, "King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel" & "Lyre of the Levites", are dedicated to restoring again, for the first time in almost 2000 years, the mystical, ancient sounds of the "Kinnor" - the lyre of the ancient Hebrews. After almost 2000 years of empty, desolate silence, after the tragic destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Roman Legions under Titus in 70 C.E, the haunting strains of the ancient Jewish Kinnor can now finally be heard, once again...

THE AMAZING SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NUMBER OF STRINGS ON THE ORIGINAL BIBLICAL LYRES

According to both the ancient writings of the 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, and the Biblical text, we know that the Kinnor Lyre played in the Temple of Jerusalem had 10 strings, and the Nevel Lyre had 12 - this is of amazing spiritual significance...

The reason why the Kinnor had 10 strings, must surely be to represent The Ten Commandments, and the reason why the Nevel Lyre had 12 strings, must be to represent The 12 Tribes of Israel (the Levitical Priests in the Temple of Jerusalem also wore a breastplate with 12 Gems to represent the 12 Tribes).

Even more amazing - the sum of the total number of tones which could be played on both these lyres is 10 strings on the Kinnor, plus the 12 strings of the Nevel, which gives a total of 22 possible musical notes - which also happens to correspond to the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet!

According to the doctrines of Jewish Mysticism, more commonly known as Kabbalah, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a unique, spiritual significance, as the Hebrew alphabet is, quite literally, "the Word of G_d" - this amazing correlation of numbers regarding the strings on both the Kinnor and Nevel Lyres once played in the Temple of Jerusalem, could quite well be one of the earliest examples of Kabbalistic Philosophy ever know!

For details of all the all the fascinating historical and spiritual background to my albums, please follow the link on the left to my official website. There is also a link on the left, to one of the promotional videos I created for this album.

KING DAVID'S LYRE

The truly ancient Jewish Kinnor, was the very first lyre to be mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, where it is now commonly mistranslated as "harp" - Jubal was the son of Lamech and Adah, a brother of Jabal, a descendant of Cain, and according to the Bible, "he was the ancestor of all who played the lyre and pipe" (Genesis 4:21).

References to this beautiful Biblical lyre of antiquity can also be found throughout the entire text of the Hebrew Bible, for example:

Psalm 33:2, 43:4, 49:4, 57:8, 71:22, 81:2, 92:3, 98:5, 98:5, 108:2, 147:7, 149:3, 150:3, 137:2

In Biblical times, the Kinnor was usually made of cypress wood, or in very precious instruments, of sandalwood (I Kings 10: 12; described as "almug"). According to the ancient writings of the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, who actually witnessed the Kinnor being played by the Levites in the Temple of Jerusalem, the Kinnor had ten strings, made of sheep gut.

The Biblical Kinnor Lyre was the actual "Harp of David", once played by King David himself, 3000 years ago, as he danced before the very Ark of the Covenant (II Samuel 6:5), and for over 1000 years, the mystical resonance of the Kinnor could be heard wafting down from the Temple Mount, as my very own, very ancient Levite ancestors played their Kinnors in the Courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem, to accompany the almost legendary singing of the Levitical Choir (II Chronicles 5:12).

The Kinnor on which I am playing, is of the Second Temple Era design; from the actual time of Jesus! The design of my replica instrument is based illustrations of the Kinnor depicted on ancient Jewish coins minted at the time of the Simon Bar Kochba Revolt against the Roman occupation in Israel (a photograph of such a coin can be seen the cover of the album).

The design of the Jewish Temple Lyre in the time of Jesus is remarkably similar to the ancient Greek Kithara; the large wooden lyre played by the professional musicians of ancient Greece. This could possibly demonstrate the Hellenistic influence on Jewish culture at this time? Indeed, it is know that Herod often imported Greek musicians for the various festivals in Jerusalem.

THE CHOICE OF REPORTOIRE FOR THE ALBUM

After much experimentation and research, I finally settled on the idea of arranging for solo lyre, a diverse range of traditional Jewish folk songs, mystical Shabbat hymns and music from the traditional Jewish Klezmer repertoire - the concept of the musical performances on this album, are meant to be evocations, not reconstructions, of the sounds & playing techniques that were possible on the ten-stringed Kinnor of the Bible - there are sadly too few unambiguously notated melodies from antiquity to make an album of "note for note" reconstructions of ancient instrumental solo lyre music a feasible reality.

However, as can be discovered in the detailed articles which can be found on my "Official Website", the traditional Jewish scales/modes in which these pieces are actually written, may have their origin in these mystically remote, ancient Biblical Times...

THE 22 TRACKS...

Jewish Mysticism is more popularly known as Kabbalah; according to the Kabbalists, each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet has a unique, transcendental and spiritual significance - therefore, I have decided to record 22 tracks for this album; to correspond to each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet :

1) The Music of Moses – a spontaneous improvisation on an ancient Egyptian scale.

2) Kol Nidre - “All Vows”; sung at the start of the Yom Kippur Services.

3) Avinu Malcheinu - “Our Father, Our King”; traditionally sang at Yom Kippur.

4) Havenu Shalom Aleichem - “Peace unto you”; one of the most famous of all Hebrew songs.

5) Zemer Atik - “Ancient Melody”; an Israeli folk song.

6) Hatikvah - “The Hope”; the Israeli National Anthem.

7) Berdichiever Khosid – an almost mystical-sounding Klezmer melody...

8) Siman Tov – "A Good Sign"; a jubilant song of celebration and congratulation.

9) Kandel's Hora – a slow , haunting, Jewish Klezmer melody.

10) Odessa Bulgar – an exhilarating Klezmer classic!

11) Abu's Courtyard – a lively Hasidic melody.

12) Shalom Chavarim - “Peace friends, until we meet again”; a traditional Hebrew song.

13) Araber Tantz - “Arabic Dance”; an amazingly Middle Eastern-sounding Klezmer melody.

14) Hine Ma Tov - “Behold How Good”; an Israeli folk song.

15) Bukovina Freylekhs – a hypnotically beautiful Klezmer tune.

16) Oh Hanukah – a traditional Jewish song.

17) Der Heyser Bulgar - “The Hot Bulgar”; a traditional Klezmer favourite.

18) Shabbat Shalom – An improvisation on a meditative Shabbat chant.

19) Shalom Aleichem - “Peace be upon you”; a traditional Shabbat melody.

20) Ose Shalom - "The One Who Makes Peace"; the final refrain of the Mourner's Kaddish.

21) Hava Nagila - “Let Us Rejoice”

22) Yigdal - “May He be Magnified”; this lovely traditional melody is often the concluding hymn sang at the end of the Friday evening Shabbat service.

Prepare to embark with me, on an actual "Musical Adventure in Time Travel"! On this incredible journey, I will take you back over 3500 years ago, to the mystically remote, Biblical times of the Ancient Hebrews, & to hear once more, the Music of Moses, & the Healing Harp of King David...

Shalom!

Michael Levy

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    The Music of Moses

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    Kol Nidre

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    Avinu Malcheinu

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    Havinu Shalom Aleichem

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    Zemer Atik

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    Hatikvah

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    Berdichiever Khosid

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    Siman Tov

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    Kandel's Hora

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    Odessa Bulgar

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King David's Harp

Ancient Biblical-themed album

"Beautiful and Authentic...

Michael Levy has done a tremendous service to the educational world in producing this music for ancient lyre and taking the time and effort to research and recreate the sounds of the past in the most authentic way possible. I have shared his work with my students and found it to be very helpful in conveying the message not only of what music most likely sounded like in ancient times, and particularly in religious worship, but also the appreciation of the process of resuscitating the sounds of the past. I am very grateful for his work and look forward to sharing more of it with the students I write for in the future"Kim Barry -

iTunes (USA) Review


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