Second Lyre Academy in Germany

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By Veronika Roemer, Quakertown, PA

This past July I had the great fortune to attend the second lyre academy in Germany, with Christian Giersch and Martin Tobiassen as the organizers and teachers. The conference took place in the buildings (some of them new) of a former biodynamic farm, located In the little town of Hemmersheim in Bavaria. The town was so small and humble, aside from a large and very domineering Baroque Catholic Church right across the street from our location, that there was no danger of being distracted from playing the lyre all day long.

We all arrived on Sunday. Participants were from Germany, Brazil, USA, China, Japan, Holland, and Norway. That evening we presented the pieces we hoped to play with other participants, and many groups were formed. For the next 5 days we started with Martin for our first plenum session, complete with warm up exercises, learning music by ear, from sheet music and by heart. Then we either practiced with our various groups, by ourselves, or had private lessons. Every participant received two lessons each from Christian and Martin, an unbelievable treat and tremendous boost toward improved playing. After supper we concluded with a plenum session with Christian.

On Friday afternoon we drove to the nearby castle where the previous lyre academy had taken place, for our concert in the evening. Christian gave a beautiful introduction about the lyre, as well as a brief introduction for each group of pieces that were performed by the plenum or small groups, and solos. He also performed a wonderful solo improvisation on his magnificent bass lyre.

On Saturday we were treated to a boat ride on the river Main, and had time to visit the lovely old town of Ochsenfurt. In the evening we gave an impromptu concert at the Baroque church, whose quarterly, hourly and early morning extended ringing had reminded us throughout the week of the passing of time. The program was slightly altered due to the space and different audience. Instead of Christian's improvisation, Martin performed a few old songs, accompanying himself in a rather unorthodox way on one of the very first Gaertner lyres. Again, it was a wonderful treat for all of us. Both concerts, attended by two very different audiences, were well received.

The theme of the academy was "Dynamics," in all possible aspects. What is the dynamic of a piece of music, of a melody, or of a harmonic progression, and how do I express it? How strong and how soft can a lyre, solo or group or orchestra, sound? Sound modulation, streaming from tone to tone and through a melody, balance between parts and players, melodic playing versus broken chords, and, of course, the art of damping. These were threads that went through all our sessions and practices. And, with it, came about a refined listening for beauty and continuity of sound and musical expression, which in turn enabled us to strive to overcome irregularities of the instrument and imperfections of technique.

The next lyre academy is already planned and the dates are set. It will take place in Schloss Seehaus, where the first academy took place, from August 1 to 9, 2020.

From Saeko Cohn, Nyack, NY:

Summer Academy for Lyre Playing: This one-week lyre “boot camp” in Germany provided everything that I needed after my Resonare course: to improve my lyre playing skill and play more music in ensembles. Although the course is intended for advanced lyre players, it did not take me long to decide to apply for the course. I contacted the organizers, Christian Giersch and Martin Tobiassen, and received their enthusiastic permission to join them in the summer. It was a dream-come-true: to play music nearly twelve hours every day for a week!

No matter how deep my love for music had always been, I carried a sense of resignation for being a tasteful “consumer” of music, but not a generator. Only now – after attending the German Summer Academy and working hard under the guidance of these two world-class musicians/lyre-teachers, alongside fellow students with many years of lyre-playing – have I discovered a simple truth: that playing music beautifully is indeed my lifelong dream, and it is actually still attainable, at least as far as the modern lyre is concerned, as long as I keep practicing in the right way.

We began our morning plenum work with Martin at 9 AM. Every evening around 6:30 PM, we closed with Christian’s plenum. In-between, before, and after these official hours, we were mostly on our own, either practicing in various ensembles or taking private lessons with one of the teachers. We were all moving about the farm house like honeybees, between ensemble practices and lessons. We all gathered for delicious meals prepared specially for us by our chef, Johannes, then quickly dispersed to own corners to practice. I found myself in two ensembles, one with my fellow participant from the USA, Veronika Roemer, playing Claude Debussy’s “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk,” along with Flávia Betti (Brazil) and Tamami Mizuno and Rieko Yahata (Japan); and in the other group playing Maria Schüppel’s piece with Kristin Küster (Netherlands) and Marit Karaskiewicz and Ursula Helland (Norway).

For my private lessons with Christian and Martin, I brought the first movement of Alois Künstler’s “3 Pieces in C Minor.” There I could experience the true essence of music through their dedication. It was truly a privilege to study the art of music (i.e. not only lyre-playing techniques) with them, and I will continue to do so whenever the opportunity arises.

We concluded the academy with two public concerts, one at Schloss Seehaus and the other at a local Catholic church near the farm. Unlike the Resonare benefit concert, I must confess that I was a bit scared (mainly because I was more “exposed” in smaller ensembles), but it was a worthwhile experience. All in all, never had I felt so happy and fulfilled by playing music than I did this summer.

After the German summer academy, my son and I visited several places of interest for lyrists. In Filderstadt near Stuttgart, we visited the Choroi workshop and bought a Bordun Lyre and a few metal instruments. We then visited the master lyre builder Horst Nieder in his workshop in Heiligenberg near Überlingen, where I picked up my new tenor-alto lyre.

With my new Salem tenor-alto lyre, I immediately joined Laura Schnur and Sally Willig (the latter a former Resonare student) in Chestnut Ridge, NY to practice various lyre trios. I also meet with a fellow Resonare co-student from the last year, Min Wang of Camphill Copake, once a week at the Threehold Community (where she is currently studying speech therapy), to review everything we studied at Resonare, singing and playing one piece after another. In my new suburban environment, I always introduce myself as a lyre player, and I have already been invited to play at the Fall Fair of the Green Meadow Waldorf School, which my son now attends. I feel that this is a good start, as the lyre’s sound and anthroposophy convince me that there is a lot of work to be done with the lyre, such as performing and letting the world know about the music composed for the modern lyre since the 1930s to the present and spreading exposure to the lyre beyond anthroposophic communities.