By Sheila Johns, Quito, Ecuador
It was mid-May of this year, and I had just finished teaching a lyre course with Japanese lyrist Tomoko Mino in the province of Zhuhai in the south of China. We were enjoying dinner with our host Vicky Deng, when the two of them suddenly asked me if I planned to go to Germany to attend the first International Summer Lyre Academy in July. I had been so busy traveling, teaching, and performing both in and out of my adopted home country of Ecuador, that I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about. They excitedly explained that two of our most accomplished international master lyre teachers, Martin Tobiassen and Christian Giersch. were teaming up to offer this academy to experienced lyrists who wished to deepen their playing skills and enjoy some more advanced ensemble work. They informed me that they had both registered and planned to go – Vicky from China, and Tomoko from Japan, and they begged me to consider joining them! I had a deep regard for Martin and for Christian, both as musicians and as human beings, and I immediately began to imagine what a fantastic opportunity this would be.
As soon as I returned home, I wrote to Martin, who had been our master teacher guest for the LANA Summer Lyre Conference in 2016 at the Michael Fields Institute in East Troy, Wisconsin. I was warmly welcomed to join those who had already registered, and I immediately began searching for the best flights between Quito, Ecuador and Frankfurt, Germany.
In the end, the participants in this first ever Summer Lyre Academy created a remarkably international group of nine students, two teachers, and a wonderful cook. In addition to Tomoko, Vicky, another Chinese lyrist, and myself, we had participants from Holland, England, Germany, and Brazil.
We spent a truly magical week together. The setting for our work was the fairy tale Schloss Seehaus, a Baroque style castle built in the 16th century, with current construction dating to about 1780 and located in the Schwarzenberg region of Bavaria. The Lord of Seehaus is an accomplished singer with a great love for music making of all kinds, and during the summer months, he makes these stunning period buildings and grounds available for ensembles, choruses, orchestras and summer music workshops as well as sponsoring a concert series in the exquisitely appointed chapel wing of the castle. Each room is a work of art – most filled with period instruments, and I counted over 20 keyboards of some kind or other throughout the various wings and rooms of the Castle.
We each had our own unique lodging within the castle, and we enjoyed 3 beautiful homemade meals together each day in the original castle kitchen, prepared for us by a colleague of Martin and Christian who himself is a lyrist.
Prior to our arrival, we had each been asked to prepare a solo piece of music as well as to submit suggestions for ensemble music we would like to play with others. In addition, Martin and Christian had each chosen and sent us plenum pieces which we were meant to work on together.
Each participant could sign up for 4 private lessons during the week. Most of us chose to have 2 lessons each with our two master teachers. In addition, we spent the first evening pouring over all of the ensemble music and forming ourselves into small groups according to who wished to play what.
After a delicious hot breakfast, we began each day with a morning plenum where we worked together on a lively 12-tone Kanon of Christian’s as well as a stunning 3-part piece of Martin’s called Morning Bows. The approaches and musical styles of Martin and Christian were utterly and delightfully different from one another, which created a rich and complimentary experience for all of the participants!
The rest of our days consisted of private lessons, practicing on our own, and rehearsing with our various ensembles, punctuated by fabulous meals, usually outside in the beautiful gardens overlooking the gorgeous castle grounds and surrounding countryside. We spent our evenings playing for each other, which was a lovely experience – each one choosing to improvise or share something prepared in a completely accepting atmosphere of deep listening and appreciation for all efforts made, however modest. Halfway through our week, Martin and Christian presented a full public concert in the royal chapel as part of the Schloss Seehaus Summer Concert Series, accompanied by wine-tasting from the castle private label winery. On the last evening of our Academy, the 9 of us joined our teachers and presented a public concert together reflecting the variety of solos and ensembles on which we had worked during the week.
If all this sounds like a dream for any lyrist interested in improving their lyre technique, improvisation, musicianship, listening, and ensemble skills, I can assure you that IT WAS!! To add the charm and beauty of our unique setting as well as the rare opportunity to share such an intimate social experience with fellow lyrists and such incredibly accomplished teachers created a very special and truly unforgettable experience that continues to inspire me all these many months later. Even though we did not share a common spoken language, the air around us filled with a beautiful cacophony of German, English, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish, we quickly discovered that our universal language of music made it possible to make a genuine connection with each person as we joined our lyre sounding and singing voices in creating a tapestry of musical harmony together. Thank you, Martin and Christian, for creating an inspiring new opportunity to affirm our humanity through using the medium of the lyre to deepen our social and musical potential for the future!