The Lyre of Tauranga
The Lyre of Tauranga will sing songs of war and peace on 2 April 2016, at the
Baycourt Theatre in Tauranga, in a celebration of ancient instruments and the
connections of lands and cultures.
Indigenous music is based on the belief that each instrument has its own voice, and its song represents the time of its creation, its place and culture of origin, and the spirituality of the musician.
The Lyre of Tauranga is the recreation of a 4,500 year old ancient treasure, the Bull’s lyre of Ur, the first known string instrument and precursor of today’s guitar. Replicated by Tauranga man John Knotts using NZ redwood for its frame and paua, pounamu and oyster shell in its decorations, the Lyre of Tauranga is a symbol of hope and revival. The lyre, long lost and repeatedly destroyed, is kept alive by the determination and collaboration of enthusiasts all over the world.
Natalia Mann, a NZ born harpist, designed compositions for the Lyre’s song in response to art created by Sundus Abdul Hadi, an Iraqi/Canadian artist, who will provide the cultural context of the lyre’s place of origin with a multimedia contribution. Natalia will perform those compositions on the Lyre of Tauranga with taonga puoro played by Jo’el Komene.
Born in NZ and immersed in diverse styles of music around the world all her life, Natalia’s focus transformed from classical music to music created in collaboration with others and imbued with the voices of the instruments and their culture.
Taonga puoro are ancient Maori instruments, created from natural materials and integral part in sacred and every day rituals, in story telling and other aspects of Maori life. Like the lyre, taonga puoro. and their songs were thought to be lost, but experienced a revival over the last decades.
During his studies of Te Reo Māori Jo’el Komene encountered taonga puoro., and immersed himself in their creation, their songs and performance. A carver, Jo’el creates his own instruments and learns their songs without being taught.
Completing his studies with a Masters in taonga puoro from Waikato University, Jo’el today shares his taonga puoro. songs at Marae and in workshops across the country.
Unlike classical performance there is no written notation for neither the lyre nor taonga puoro. The musicians immerse themselves in the instrument’s history and culture to discover and release the instrument’s song.
Sundus Abdul Hadi is an Iraqi-Canadian multimedia artist. She was born in the UAE and raised in Montreal, where she is currently pursuing an MA in Media Studies at Concordia University. Sundus uses manipulated photographic imagery, mixed-media painting, artist books and sound in her art to build a deeper understanding of the socio-political situation in Iraq and to generate dialogue within both Eastern and Western audiences. Her recent series WARCHESTRA “is a multimedia series of visual and sonic components about war and culture. By replacing weapons of war with musical instruments, the WARCHESTRA experience aims to re-imagine the media-saturated spaces of the Middle East, and Iraq in particular, through collage and sound. The project has evolved into an act of empowerment through culture, highlighting the cultural heritage of the Arab peoples amidst an ongoing backdrop of war and destruction. It aims to combat the stereotypical image of Arabs in the Western Media as gun-toting and violent, and to instead draw attention to culture and heritage.”
The Lyre of Tauranga
The Lyre of Tauranga combines different cultures: ancient Mesopotamia where it was first built, the cradle of civilization, the location of the biblical Garden of Eden and the birthplace of the first known writing system, cuneiform writing.
Located in parts of today’s Iraq and Syria the former Garden of Eden is today known for war, destruction. The lyre has gone through many transformations found in the royal tombs of Ur in 1929 and re-constructed, it was lost after the bombing and looting of Iraq’s museum in 2003. Enthusiasts around the world are determined to replicate the lyre. Tauranga man John Knotts is one of these enthusiasts.
Learning about Mesopotamia at school, John fell in love with its rich history and its art. The story of the lyre, and the image of the woman adorned with jewelry, inspired John to one day create a playable replica of a Bull’s lyre and its jewelry.
Decades later, in 2012, John built several mock-ups before embarking on what is now the Bull’s Lyre of Tauranga. To finish the project and realize a performance of the lyre John approached the Incubator in 2013. Pauline Moore and The Incubator have been instrumental to source funds for the completion of the lyre: the gilding of the bull’s head and the sourcing of specialised strings from the UK.
The team at Baycourt theatre offered a specialist concert venue, technical support, and marketing to invite an audience to enjoy the one-off performance of the lyre and taonga puoro..
Finding a musician to perform on the lyre was no easy task: modern harps have 26 to 40 strings while the lyre has only 9. When asked what attracted her to the project Natalia Mann responded: “The most interesting aspect for me is ‘Why has this cultural artifact appeared in Tauranga in the 21st century? And what on earth shall we do with it - it is so far from home.
“The poet Ileini Kabalan, a child of political refugees herself, said that it’s as if the lyre was no longer able to sing in its own home, so it has gone through the earth to other places so that its song may continue to exist. The displacement of people fleeing war is one of the great humanitarian challenges the world faces today. For me this lyre symbolises that plight. “I am excited to collaborate with Iraqi artist Sundus Abdul Hadi on this project; I am designing the compositions for the lyre in response to Sundus’ artwork. It is especially pertinent that Iraq has seen so many of its people displaced all over the world because of international warfare. “
To gain an understanding of the lyre’s music Natalia has reduced the number of strings on her own instrument to nine. Natalia will have only a few days before the performance to play the instrument, and to meet Jo’el Komene and his taonga puoro.
The performance of The Lyre of TaURanga is on April 2nd at Baycourt Community & Art Centre, 38 Durham Street, Tauranga 3110 Time tbc