Let's Move the Music on the Lyre! Zeist workshop with Hajime Kira

By Saeko S. Cohn

Several serendipitous encounters last fall inspired me to obtain a soprano lyre and take up playing it. As I was unable to find a teacher in the Metropolitan New York area, I tried on my own to make sense of this instrument for half a year with several lyre instruction books for beginners in hand and my three-year-old son as a listener-companion.

In April 2018, I read Hajime Kira’s book for new parents, in Japanese, Shūtainā kyōiku no oto to ongaku: shizukesa no ooi no nakade (Tone and Music in Waldorf Education: In the Veil of Quietness), 2002, and was greatly impressed by his discussion of the essence of music and child care through the anthroposophic understanding of the threefold soul activities of man. Shortly after finishing the book, I learned that Mr. Kira would be teaching at the Lyre 2018 conference in Zeist in the summer. I decided to participate, not knowing that it was a once-every-three-year gathering.

So, from July 22 through 27, I attended the Lyre 2018--World Lyre Conference at Stichtse Vrije School, a Waldorf high school in Zeist, in the Netherlands. Over 170 people from 18 countries participated. I was fortunate to be able to take Mr. Kira’s workshop, titled “Let’s Move the Music on the Lyre!” Eleven students from six countries (Netherlands, Germany, Scotland, Brazil, Macau/China, and the USA) attended, and Mr. Kira’s daughter, Yurino, assisted as an interpreter throughout the sessions. Here is my short report of what we learned each day.

On the first day, Mr. Kira told us that his workshop was about “how to produce good sound on the lyre with good body movements,” or “how an individual player can produce the most ‘lyre-like’ sound with his/her hands and body.” To achieve this, he emphasized the importance of “making preparations” before producing actual sounds. He used the analogy of Eurythmy’s basic movement of contraction and expansion; the very moment when contraction is released into expansion, a sound emerges. In other words, well before making a sound, the finger must not only grasp but press on the string as if to create the center of contraction in Eurythmy. That is what he calls “preparation.” Mr. Kira said we must learn to do this unconsciously in order to play beautifully.

On the second day, Mr. Kira told us that he himself learned the importance of the sound-producing “preparation” from his lyre teacher, Annemarie Loring (1923-2014). He proceeded to explain the importance of the interval of the fifth, and of playing this particular interval with an awareness of space and flow, i.e. descending B-E/A-D/G-C/ and ascending D-A, played in one stream. He then explained that Waldorf education is “education toward freedom,” and that one of the primary missions of Waldorf early childhood education is to assist each child in “building a body that properly and sufficiently MOVES in accordance with his/her own will.” (Emphasis added.) He made a point that adults also need to learn to move in this way, so that the body serves as a “vessel” for the independently willed activity of music production.

On the third day, Mr. Kira explained the importance of activating the pinky and ring finger when playing the lyre, to better achieve “good body movements” unconsciously. We then practiced the arpeggio accompaniment to “Gaelisches Lied” (arr. Wolfgang Friebe), starting each arpeggio with pinky fingering.

On the last day, we practiced the Dorian scale and Mr. Kira gave us a few tips for dampening sounds. The way in which he related the importance of sound-producing “preparation” and dampening of individual tones was particularly useful. He said that “a sound ceases on its own when a string is touched by another finger,” and that “accomplished lyre players do this unconsciously.” In other words, lyre players must cultivate their hands and fingers so that they can “listen to” sounds and move unconsciously to the point of being able to discern and dampen tones, when necessary, on their own.

Overall, it was a wonderfully productive four-day seminar, and I have been busy all summer practicing what I learned in Zeist.