The 'Lyre 2.0' Project


Since June 2014, I have been delighted to announce an exciting new collaboration entitled "The Lyre 2.0 Project", between myself and the specialist ancient Greek lyre makers from Thessaloniki, "Luthieros - Ancient & Modern Music Instruments"

The essential concept of the "Lyre 2.0 Project", is our shared vision of reintroducing the beautiful lyre of antiquity back into our much less beautiful, bland, modern world. Recently, this inspirational project was featured as a new entry in the prestigious Ancient History Encyclopedia.

There is a series of video presentations about my collaboration in the project, filmed whilst I had the pleasure of visiting the Luthieros team in Thessaloniki in October 2015. The videos in this series were directed and produced by Panagiotis Tsandaris:




Here is another video in the series, filmed on location at the site of an ancient Greek burial ground in ancient Europos, by Panagiotis Tsandaris, featuring a performance on the lovingly recreated Luthieros replica ancient Greek tortoise shell lyre:


The next video filmed in tis unique ancient Greek archaeological site, features the Luthieros replica ancient Greek Sambuca - an archaic arched harp with a resonator made of an actual tortoise shell:



Here is a video featuring the Luthieros replica ancient Greek Barbiton or Barbitos - a bass register tortoise shell lyre, favoured by the ancient Greek lyrical poet, Sappho of Lesbos:






The next video in this series, features one of the Luthieros Chelys (Tortoise Shell Form) Lyres - made with a resonator of wood in the form of the tortoise shell for a richer tone. In this video, I also demonstrate some of the wonderful rhythmic possibilities on this lyre, using the Luthieros replica 2500 year old carved bone plectrum to also percussively hit the skin of the soundboard, in addition to plucking the strings:







The next video features a similar type of chelys form lyre, "The Lyre of the Blind Bard Homer", which has a distinctive treble register timbre:






The next video from the epic film shoot in ancient Europos, features the Luthieros replica ancient Greek angular harp, known as the Epigonion:






The final videos which of my performance of the Luthieros ancient Greek Kithara and Phorminx can be seen in the section of this site dedicated to my own research about the ancient Kithara of ancient Greece and Rome - these lyres feature the wonderfully reconstructed 2500 year old vibrato mechanism, of which, as I argue in my research, there is almost an overwhelming body of visual evidence to support this theory.


As my own own ongoing contributions to this unique collaboration, I have written a booklet outlining the history of the lyre, lyre playing techniques, the unique characteristics of the ancient Greek modes, notated my arrangements of music for solo lyre (featuring some original ancient Greek melodies and a selection of my own compositions in a selection of some of the original ancient Greek modes) and recording a CD to accompany the booklet of notated music to capture the haunting and evocative ancient timbre of "The Lyre of Apollo III"  model which Luthieros custom made for me in December 2014. The CD (the physical CD of my album "The Lyre of Apollo: The Chelys Lyre of Ancient Greece") and booklet will be included with each beautiful Luthieros lyre sold. 

Other physical CDs of my albums to also be included in sales of the Luthieros lyre range, include my albums "A Well Tuned Lyre: The Just Intonation of Antiquity" , "The Lyre of Hermes"  and featuring the wonderful replica tortoise shell lyre, my album "The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre" 




My new meditative compilation album, "Ancient Lyre Music for Meditation"  with also be featuring tracks recorded with the Luthieros replica Barbitos, Kithara and Tortoise Shell Lyres.

I have also compiled a series of special beginners tuition videos for the lyres made by Luthieros.

The following slide show presentation I put together, features my composition "Ode To Aphrodite", from my album "The Ancient Greek Lyre"  arranged for the beautiful, exotic timbre of the "Lyre of Apollo III":




Luthieros are comprised of members of the Koumartzis family of specialist musical instrument makers, musicians and researchers, who are based in Thessaloniki, Greece: 

The master luthier of the family, is Anastasios Koumartzis, whose sons manage research and production, public relations and global web representation.Here is one of the Luthieros video presentations, outlining the detailed production and research process entailed in recreating their beautiful lyres:


The Luthieros inspirational "Lyre 2.0 Project" recently featured in an article in "Lifo Magazine" - one of the most widely read cultural magazines in Greece.

Their vision is one I share and which continues to inspire me - maybe, some day soon, the beautiful lyre of antiquity will once again resonate the bland modern world with its haunting, ancient beauty...


One of the most innovative of all the video presentations Luthieros have produced in collaboration with Panagiotis Tsandaris, is an arrangement of the theme of the cult television series, "Game of Thrones", featuring almost their entire range of replica ancient Greek lyres:






For a special discount of 25 Euros for each and every new order from Luthiers, simply quote the voucher code "MICHAELLEVY01" for each new order! Here are some examples of the beautiful lyres available to purchase from the Luthieros Etsy Store - simply click on the photos below to be directed to the purchase links:


Kithara of the Golden Age




The Lyre of Hermes


The Lyre of Apollo


The Marvellous Lyre of Olympus


The Golden Lyre of Erato


The Lyre of Apollo II (Hand Painted)


The Dark Lyre of Orpheus - The Lyre of the Underworld


The Barbiton Lyre of Sappho


The Lyre of Sappho II - Ancient Greek Barbiton Lyre


The Lyre of Apollo III


The Marvellous Lyre of Olympus


The Marvellous Lyre of Terpander


Inspirationally authentic - this was my first observation! In particular, the unique, exotic timbre of this lyre is mainly thanks to the much more authentically 'bench-shaped' bridge - much wider at the top and flatter than the standard guitar-style "A-shaped' bridges which feature on my other lyres.

The shape of the lyre bridge is really significant in the creation of the unique tone of the lyre, for whereas the modern guitar-style 'A-shaped' bridge is designed to be buzz-free, creating a pure, harp-like tone almost all detailed illustrations of ancient lyres seem to show the flatter, bench-shaped bridge, which creates a completely different tone!

The wider top of these 'bench-shaped' bridges creates a subtle but very pleasant 'buzz' to the overall timbre - rather like that of a sitar, or a much more subtle version of the begena, a lyre still played today in Ethiopia, where the inherent buzz of the archaic flatter lyre bridge has become the primary feature of the particular tone of this bass register 10-string lyre.



I have always suspected that one of the Biblical lyres, the 10-string 'Kinnor' also possessed a similar timbre, for the ancient Hebrew word for melody, pronounced 'Zemer', to me, always sounded onomatopoeic - one could almost hear the buzz of the ancient lyre strings in the sound of the word 'Zemer' itself!

Every detail of this beautiful lyre has been designed with authenticity in mind, even down to the incredibly useful and aesthetically pleasing braided 'telamon' - the strap traditionally used to play the lyre with two hands simultaneously, which contrary to the prevailing prejudice for a belief in the 'urban myth' of the monotony of monophony in the ancient world, this is exactly how these beautiful instruments were indeed designed to be played in antiquity, as illustrated in countless actual ancient depictions of lyre players:

Another really authentic feature which appealed to me greatly, was the use of a perfectly straight bridge - the other lyres I own, all have a steeply slanted bridge to compensate for the tension of the thinner treble strings and much thicker bass strings, similar to the way a guitar bridge slants, providing greater vibrating length to the bass strings and less vibrating length to the treble, thus evening out string tension.

In this beautiful, lyre, since low tension gut strings are used, which are also of fine gauge, there is no need to slant the bridge in this way - which is really great for playing harmonics, because the point at which the harmonic can be produced by lightly stopping the string at the centre, is at exactly the same point for each string.

Also, by the addition of an extra telamon half way up the length of the arms of the lyre (this time, 'authentically' fashioned from a pair of my wife's old nlyon stockings!), I have found that it is then possible to achieve some of the lyre playing techniques for playing the accidentals clearly indicated in many of the surviving fragments of ancient Greek music, which was hypothesized by the musicologist, Curt Sachs - the use of either the knuckle or nail of the left thumb as a fret at the top of the string, to raise its pitch by either the required semitone, or indeed, microtone. There is evidence I found of such a technique used by ancient Egyptian harpists, at least a thousand years before the Golden Age of ancient Greece, as seen in this illustration of a harpist in a relief from tomb 11 in the Ta-Apet (Thebes) area (New Kingdom  circa 1520 BCE) clearly seen using a finger to change the vibrating length of a specific harp string:

I found it very easy to adapt to this 'string stopping' technique on my 'Lyre of Apollo' as unlike the other lyres I own, just as on the actual lyres of antiquity, the strings on my 'Lyre of Apollo' are fanned out, so that they are much closer together at the bridge than they are towards the tuning pegs, which leaves easily manageable, wide spaces at the top of the strings to insert my thumb in order to raise the pitch of the individual strings. I could actually comfortably fit my thumb in sideways - a feat impossible on my other lyres, in which the strings are all perfectly vertical with equal narrow spaces between them.

Here is a video I recorded to demonstrate both this 'string stopping' technique and the ease of playing harmonics on my beautiful 'Lyre of Apollo' in this performance of my composition, "Hymn To Zeus"  from my album "Apollo's Lyre":









Unlike the harp, these authentically made lyres are strung with the bass strings closest to the player and the treble strings farthest away - which although this took a few hours to get used to, also adds to the authentic lyre playing experience! There was a very specific reason for this particular stringing configuration of the lyre in antiquity, in contrast to that of the harp, as clearly explained here by John Wheeler, in a discussion thread about this subject in the Facebook group, "The Lyre":

"Without exception, where the evidence is unambiguous – in dozens if not scores of illustrations cited by Prof. Richard Dumbrill in his book on the Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East (ANE) – the ancient asymmetrical lyre player always had the bass strings nearest to him. If he was a right-handed player, the bass strings were on the left of the lyre from the front. If he was a left-handed player, the bass strings were on the right of the lyre. Presumably the trend continued in symmetrical lyres (old habits die hard).

So what was a multi-instrumentalist of the ANE to do? Is there the slightest evidence that any of them ever said, “Oh, dear, I’m playing a lyre now rather than a harp – I have to string the lyre so that it matches harp stringing?” No, indeed! There was a reason why the lyre player kept the bass strings nearest to him: the resonance of the instrument, which is something he could feel and which was reinforced by contact with his body (and vice versa). Harps followed a different path of development and projected their sound in a different way. For the resonance to affect the harpist’s body and vice versa, different points of contact had to be made"

Regarding the actual construction of my 'Lyre of Apollo III' model by Luthieros, the instrument is incredibly lightly built and responsive, with ample volume, even from its low tension gut strings. In the other models by Luthieros such as the 'Lyre of Hermes' and 'The Golden Lyre of Erato', the tortoise shell-style resonator featured in these models is still fashioned from wood for this much more desirable, light and responsive tone, but as the photos of these lyres show, the wood is painstakingly carved to look identical to a tortoise shell (the material originally used to fashion the resonator for the ancient Greek lyra). The attention to detail is phenomenal - for their 'Lyre of Hermes', 'The Golden Lyre of Erato' and 'The Dark Lyre of Orpheus' models, Luthieros actually use cutting edge 3D laser scanning technology to replicate every detail of an actual tortoise shell in wood:

Indeed, the only concession to modernity, is the much more practical use of friction tuning pegs, instead of the rather unstable and difficult archaic tuning system of leather bands over which the strings were wrapped and the leather band twisted to get the strings stretched to the required pitch (sometimes with the aid of tuning rods inserted into the string spool) which were generally used in antiquity and indeed, which are still used today on most of the wonderfully archaic lyres still played in Africa:

However, even these rather smart-looking tuning pegs do indeed look rather like the original antique-style tuning rods! 

All of the beautiful lyres, lovingly hand-crafted by Luthieros are indeed, divine artifacts, reintroduced into the modern world...











Leave a comment