||Janet McGavin and the founding
In 1959, when a long-term friend of mine, Janet McGavin, had come
over from England to take on the Special School of Bill and Gladys
Hahn in Downington, PA [and CAL was still living in the British
Isles], she told me she is undertaking the task with
lyre in hand! I sensed what that meant, especially when she seemed
to have ignited enthusiasm for playing this new instrument in enough
Americans that a first big lyre conference could take place in Spring
Valley, NY, already in 1971.
It was largely due to Janet that in 1982 a few friends founded the
Lyre Association of North America to issue a lyre newsletter and
hold annual lyre conferences in Harlemville, NY, and elsewhere.
Initially, the work rested on Janet, Channa Seidenberg, Stephan
Rasch, a few other co-opted friends and myself; soon the Lyre Assocation
attracted many active members.
After her Beaver Run and Triform years, Janet eventually moved to
the teacher training work in Detroit. There, she also planted a
garden in a derelict part of town and, on a Sunday morning in March
1994 when she was intending to play her lyre at a service of the
Christian Community, died unexpectedly.
roles of the lyre
Since Janet's strong push to introduce the lyre to Americans, the
lyre has proved itself in a variety of situations: for solo playing,
in ensemble, with other, traditional instruments, for the care of
the sick and the dying, in religious services, for Advent gardens,
for accompanying songs, for playing for the lonely individual or
at large social occasions. It is also used extensively in therapy,
to mark life's many phases, in festival celebrations, and, last
but not least, in Waldorf Schools, mostly with good results. In
the elementary grades, the different lyre models and sizes come
to be important; the little Kinderharp, the 9-stringed "Hermes"
lyre or other cantele forms, the small soprano lyre, the regular
soprano model, all graded according to the different age groups.
Sometimes the lyre was requested for situations that none would
suspect: The Parnassus Ensemble of New York City was playing Gyorgy
Khurtag's Herdecke Trilogy, which calls for a lyre, and
somehow found their way to me. Being indisposed, I asked Stephan
Rasch to join the ensemble with this Choroi harp. Although he had
to learn to play the most difficult passages he had ever played
in his life, the performance of "Herdecke Trilogy" took
place the next week, in January 1995. After the concert, Penny Roberts
wrote: "The lyre was out there amidst the traffic of the 20th
century, doing its best to live up to a task without losing itself
. . . but it seemed as though, in that unlikely setting, the lyre
had been welcomed into the world."
When it came to celebrating the 70th birthday of the lyre, on October
6. 1996, something special happened indeed: Many lyre players around
the globe agreed to play on that day with lyres tuned to the lower,
more amenable pitch of A = 432 Hz, and numerous lyre groups have
stayed with this lower pitch ever since, even though it conflicts
with some of their instruments. The eminent researcher Maria Renold,
in her study of "Intervals, Scales and Tones and the Tuning
C to 128 Hz" (soon to come out in English), paved the road
for a novel way of tuning, based on some of Rudolf Steiner's indications.
In the Lyre Association the subject of tuning "right"
forms an ongoing discussion. American symphony orchestras tune to
an ever sharper pitch, beyond A = 440 Hz—a phenomenon that
prompted Michael Brewer to ask whether we are trying to push the
cosmos along a little faster than it wants to go. The lower pitch
connects us with the rhythm of the earth harmoniously and makes
the listener (and performer) feel more at ease.
Many lyre people from Europe came to our shores. Dr. Julius Knierem—composer,
lyre teacher, and great promoter of the lyre impulse—enthused
American teachers and performers alike. I vividly remember the large
conference in 1987 in Santa Cruz, "The Healing Force of Music",
which he organized with the help of friends from Europe. Julius
also came to a lyre conference in Harlemville, NY, where we improvised
a performance of Gluck's opera Orpheus and Euridice. Andrea
Pronto, who had come with him to the first Lyre and Music Conference
in California, then stayed on. Having been trained in the Independent
Music School in Germany, she was able to take up the Choroi and
music teachers' work in the Rudolf Steiner College. Norbert Visser,
founder of the Choroi lyre building shops in Holland, Germany and
other countries, came to visit the lyre work in America. John S.
Clark and John Billing, two notable lyre teachers and composers
from Ireland, came over for courses and conferences. Also, Colin
Tanser, therapist and composer from Scotland, joined one of our
Cultural exchange peaked in July 2003, when the Lyre Association
of North America hosted the second world lyre congress. Held in
Keene, NH, 122 adults from 14 countries as well as 17 children from
2 countries participated in this gathering, which focused on the
theme of "Building Community Through Music." Among the
attendees were 7 lyre builders.