Learning to Play the Children's Lyre in China


By Veronika Roemer, Quakertown, PA

"The soul doesn't have to be nourished by anything but heavenly music - the soul doesn't need anything else!"

This is a quote from a survivor of the Theresienstadt ghetto, where the prisoners learned and performed, among other things, the Verdi Requiem. The quote is from the documentary movie "Defiant Requiem." This quote spoke to me deeply, as it reminded me of my last visit to China in January 2019.

During this trip, I gave a course to adults in how to play the children's lyre. We met daily for 11 two-hour sessions over six days. Each participant, 12 ladies, had her own lyre, most of which were Chinese models. I used the newly published book "How to play the Children's Lyre by Gerhard Beilharz," but I also added my own improvisation and group games.


I have found in the past that the Chinese have a real talent for the lyre, and so it was with this group. My students learned the basic lyre playing technique very fast. We practiced various group games with movement, passing tones, giving and receiving, and listening to intervals. We learned a few songs from the book and how to play them on the lyre as well as singing and playing them at the same time. By the end of the week, the students were able to improvise an accompaniment to a song and to make up little songs to small Chinese poems. I was very impressed by how far we got in such a short time.

The students' reaction to our musical process was even more impressive. I have experienced before how deeply the Chinese people respond to music that is brought to them in a meaningful and true way. They adored their little lyres, clearly not minding at all that they had only seven strings and a rather quiet sound. They were delighted to discover how difficult it was for them to receive the tones and how much easier it was to give them, and they launched into a lively discussion about this. They practiced "receiving" until they got it! One woman in particular created very beautiful melodies while we were improvising. I mentioned this to her and encouraged her to continue and eventually write down her songs. She was deeply touched by my observation and thanked me repeatedly.

Each session was filled with hard work, humor, and good will. It was a delight for me to work with them, and of course I learned at least as much as they did.

After the course, I was invited by three women from the course to stay in Beijing for a couple of days. Among other outings, I was taken to a tea house run by a beautiful and graceful lady. At the end of the visit, one of the women suggested that we sing a few songs for the lady as a thank you. There were three of us from the course and one small girl. But, instead of listening, the hostess wanted to sing along! So we sang a few of the simple rounds I had taught during the course. The hostess and one of her employees, who wanted to sing as well, learned the songs very quickly. They were both absolutely radiant and so happy to sing with us, and they thanked me warmly for the opportunity to join us. I had to promise to come again the next time I'm in Beijing and sing some more songs with them. I definitely will!