By Catherine Decker as told by Channa Seidenberg
Lyre builders worldwide craft their instruments in various ways. Each builder has a signature style which gives it a unique place among other lyres. What follows is one account of the Dersheid lyre and its present incarnation.
Having already played various lyres for many years, Channa Seidenberg first met the Derscheid lyre in the early 1990’s. As she had lived in both Europe and the U.S., Channa had tried many types of lyre and had opportunities to listen carefully to variations in qualities in each instrument.
In 1993, Channa was invited to teach lyre at a Verbeck singing workshop offered by Ursula Koepf who taught singing at Michael Fields in Wisconsin. Channa asked to try the lyre Ursula used, and she immediately felt connected with the tonal resonance of the instrument. This was a lyre created by Heinz Derscheid. Channa found in the Derscheid instrument a balance of warmth and light that enabled the tone to expand into the space. In Channa’s words, "After this experience, there was no going back." For her, she found the sound of this Derscheid lyre to be immensely satisfying, and she began recommending them to other lyre players.
During the ensuing years, Channa had numerous phone conversations with Herr Derscheid, placing orders and talking about his instruments. She visited him in his workshop near Stuttgart, Germany. However, in August 2008, Channa received the unexpected news that Herr Derscheid had crossed the threshold. He had been on vacation in Norway, on a fishing boat, when he died of a heart attack.
Because Heinz Derscheid did not have an apprentice, there was no one to continue the work of building these fine instruments. Soon afterward, Channa approached the LANA board with the suggestion to obtain the rights so that someone else could carry on the tradition. She did not want this type of lyre to be lost to the world.
Channa thought of Alan Thewless, a teacher and artisan who was building his own lyres under the name Tir-anna. She inquired whether he would be interested in pursuing lyre building in the style of the Derscheid instruments.
In November of the same year, Alan went to Germany to meet Herr Derscheid’s widow and toured the workshop. He asked if she would be willing to sell the legal rights so that her late husband’s instruments could continue to be made. It was a challenge to meet her price, so the Lyre Association put out a request for funds to the North American lyre community. Fortunately, an anonymous donor stepped forward with a sizable gift towards the endeavor.
Some years later, Alan returned to Germany to speak with Frau Derscheid, and a second major sum was given by the same generous donor. Frau Derscheid then sold the rights to the Derscheid instrument, and Alan was able to secure the templates, which were sent to him in Pennsylvania. Since that time, Alan has built the first “Derscheid Legacy “ lyre, which many lyre players are now eager to try!
It has been a quarter of a century since Channa first held an original Derscheid instrument and experienced its particular balance of light and warmth. Although the process took nearly ten years, the continued focus on this mission has paid off.
Alan Thewless is taking orders for these Derscheid Legacy Lyres, along with his own design, Tir-anna. We are grateful for the persistence of Channa and the LANA board members as well as for the generosity of those who saw the value of this project. How fortunate we are that these lyres are now available to us in the U.S.!