Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ancient Instruments: The Lute

Lute is almost a general term for any instrument with frets, strings, and a deep shell or back. The Lute(s) experienced its peak in popularity around the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Though their history is debated, Lutes may have been in existence for over 1000 years prior.

The length of the neck can categorize these fascinating instruments, Langhalslaute (long-necked) and short necked. The longer necks are considered to have the eldest origins.

Lutes had a presence in the following cultures- Egyptian (in the Middle Kingdom), Hittite, Greek, Roman, Bulgar, Turkic, Indian, Chinese, and Armenian/Cilician. Do you recognize some of their counterparts?

Persian relative- Barbat
Arab- Oud
Iran- Tanbur (hammer dulcimer relative)
Central Asia- Komuz
Ancient Greece- Pandura
Italy- Viola De Mano- the ancestor of the modern guitar

Medieval lutes usually had 4 or 5 course* and were plucked with a quill.
By the end of the Renaissance, 7 different sizes of lute existed! The lack of written music pre 1500AD may be evidence that most lute music was improvised accompaniment. A player of the lute would have been called a lutist, lutenist, or lutanist. A maker of Lutes is a Luthier.

*A course is a pair or more of adjacent strings tuned to unison or an octave and usually played together as if a single string. It may also refer to a single string normally played on its own on an instrument with other multi-string courses, for example the bass string on a nine string baroque guitar.

Here are a couple quotes on the evolution of the Medieval Lute-

“In the last few decades of the 15th century, in order to play Renaissance polyphony on a single instrument, lutenists gradually abandoned the quill in favor of plucking the instrument with the fingertips. The number of courses grew to six and beyond. The lute was the premier solo instrument of the 16th century, but continued to be used to accompany singers as well.”

“By the end of the Renaissance the number of courses had grown to ten, and during the Baroque era the number continued to grow until it reached 14 (and occasionally as many as 19). These instruments, with up to 26-35 strings, required innovations in the structure of the lute. At the end of the lute's evolution the archlute, theorbo and torban had long extensions attached to the main tuning head in order to provide a greater resonating length for the bass strings, and since human fingers are not long enough to stop strings across a neck wide enough to hold 14 courses, the bass strings were placed outside the fretboard, and were played "open", i.e. without fretting/stopping them with the left hand.”

The lute began to be replaced by the keyboard instruments and almost fell completely out of use after 1800AD.

The art of playing the lute formed a major part of instrumental music making in the Renaissance before keyboard instruments assumed central significance. It was a refined, soft, and at the same time colorful art, in sharp contrast to the agitated times in which it was practised.
— Karl Schumann [1]

This style knows nothing of the otherwise usual requirements and prohibitions of voice-leading; it can only be understood in relation to the fingering technique; it frequently applies the sound of open strings and in no way avoids the otherwise so despised parallel 5ths and octaves or unisons. The dissonances and other conflicting sounds which appear so often...strike me as exciting and revealing.
— Carl Orff [1]

[1] Quotation taken from the liner notes to the Wergo edition of Orff's Kleines Konzert, with English translations by John Patrick Thomas.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ancient Instruments: The Lyre

The lyre is a stringed musical instrument well known for its use in classical antiquity and later. The word comes from the Greek "λύρα" (lyra) and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B syllabic script. The earliest picture of a lyre with seven strings appears in the famous sarcophagus of Hagia Triada (a Minoan settlement in Crete). The sarcophagus was used during the Mycenaean occupation of Crete (1400 BC).The recitations of the Ancient Greeks were accompanied by lyre playing. The lyre of Classical Antiquity was ordinarily played by being strummed with a plectrum, like a guitar or a zither, rather than being plucked, like a harp. The fingers of the free hand silenced the unwanted strings in the chord. The lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp, but with certain distinct differences.

The word lyre can either refer specifically to a common folk-instrument, which is a smaller version of the professional kithara and eastern-Aegean barbiton, or lyre can refer generally to all three instruments as a family.
The term is also used metaphorically to refer to the work or skill of a poet, as in Shelley's "Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is"or Byron's "I wish to tune my quivering lyre,/To deeds of fame, and notes of fire"
Arguably the Lyre belongs to the Zither family which alos includes lutes, guitars, kantele, and psalteries. There are some points organologists can agree on. First, the Lyre and Harp are related. Secondly, the Lyre and Harp are not the same.

A classical lyre has a hollow body or sound-chest (also known as soundbox or resonator). Extending from this sound-chest are two raised arms, which are sometimes hollow, and are curved both outward and forward. They are connected near the top by a crossbar or yoke. An additional crossbar, fixed to the sound-chest, makes the bridge which transmits the vibrations of the strings. The deepest note was that farthest from the player's body; as the strings did not differ much in length, more weight may have been gained for the deeper notes by thicker strings, or they were tuned by having a slacker tension. They were stretched between the yoke and bridge, or to a tailpiece below the bridge. There were two ways of tuning: one was to fasten the strings to pegs which might be turned; the other was to change the place of the string upon the crossbar; probably both expedients were used simultaneously.

Greek vase with muse (above). Apollo holding a Cithara (right).

The number of strings on the classical lyre varied at different epochs, and possibly in different localities – four, seven and ten having been favorite numbers. They were used without a fingerboard, no Greek description or representation having ever been met with that can be construed as referring to one. Nor was a bow possible, the flat sound-board being an insuperable impediment. The pick, or plectrum, however, was in constant use. It was held in the right hand to set the upper strings in vibration; when not in use, it hung from the instrument by a ribbon. The fingers of the left hand touched the lower strings (presumably to silence those whose notes were not wanted).

According to ancient Greek mythology, the young god Hermes created the lyre from a slaughtered cow from Apollo's sacred herd, using the intestines for the strings - eventually Apollo discovered who had stolen his herd, but Hermes was forgiven after he gave Apollo the instrument. Lyres were associated with Apollonian virtues of moderation and equilibrium, contrasting with the Dionysian pipes and aulos, both of which represented ecstasy and celebration.

Locales in southern Europe, western Asia, or north Africa have been proposed as the historic birthplace of the genus. The instrument is still played in north-eastern parts of Africa.

Some of the cultures using and developing the lyre were the Aeolian and Ionian Greek colonies on the coasts of Asia (ancient Asia Minor, modern day Turkey) bordering the Lydian empire. Some mythic masters like Musaeus, and Thamyris were believed to have been born in Thrace, another place of extensive Greek colonization. The name kissar (kithara) given by the ancient Greeks to Egyptian box instruments reveals the apparent similarities recognized by Greeks themselves. The cultural peak of ancient Egypt, and thus the possible age of the earliest instruments of this type, predates the 5th century classic Greece. This indicates the possibility that the lyre might have existed in one of Greece's neighboring countries, either Thrace, Lydia, or Egypt, and was introduced into Greece at pre-classic times.

Lyres appearing to have emerged independently of Greco-Roman prototypes were used by the Teutonic, Gallic, Scandinavian, and Celtic peoples over a thousand years ago. Dates of origin, which probably vary from region to region, cannot be determined, but the oldest known fragments of such instruments are thought to date from around the sixth century of the Common Era. After the bow made its way into Europe from the Middle-East, around two centuries later, it was applied to several species of those lyres that were small enough to make bowing practical. There came to be two broad classes of bowed European yoke lyres: those with fingerboards dividing the open space within the yoke longitudinally, and those without fingerboards. The last surviving examples of instruments within the latter class were the Scandinavian talharpa and the Finnish jouhikko. Different tones could be obtained from a single bowed string by pressing the fingernails of the player's left hand against various points along the string to fret the string.

Above, Earliest known depiction of lyra in a Byzantine ivory casket (900 - 1100 AD)

In the Byzantine Empire the term lyre or lyra was used to describe the bowed Byzantine lyra, a pear-shaped bowl lyre with 3 strings, sounded by a horse tail hair bow. The Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih of the 9th century, in his lexicographical discussion of instruments, cited the Byzantine lyra as the Byzantine instrument equivalent to the bowed rebab of the Islamic empires of that time. The Byzantine lyra spread westward through Europe influencing, for one notable example, the design of the Italian lira da braccio, a 15th-century fiddle and predecessor of the modern violin. The instrument is not entirely dead, even today; variations of the lyra are still played in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Turkey; a notable example is Crete, where the Cretan lyra is central to the traditional music of the island.
The cithara or kithara was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre or lyra family. In modern Greek the word kithara has come to mean "guitar" (a word whose origins are found in kithara).

The kithara was a professional version of the two-stringed lyre. As opposed to the simpler lyre, which was a folk-instrument, the cithara was primarily used by professional musicians, called citharedes. The barbiton was a bass version of the kithara popular in the eastern Aegean and ancient Asia Minor.
Jewish vase drawing depicting a man playing a cithara with eight strings. (right)

The jouhikko (pictured left) is a traditional, 2 or 3 stringed bowed lyre, from Finland and Karelia. Its strings are traditionally of horsehair. The playing of this instrument died out in the early 20th century but has been revived and there are now a number of musicians playing it.

Sources: All info and images from Wikipedia...just reconfigured a little :)
I hope you guys are looking forward to upcoming articles on the Lute, Mandolin, Barimbau and more!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spotlight: Gypsy Vanner Horse

The Gypsy people, or Romani,  traveled from place to place working as tinkers, metalworkers, horse traders, fortune tellers, and entertainers. As their way of living and transportation evolved, they began to switch from tents to wagons. The caravan, or Vardo, was a finely decorated, carved, and painted one-room wagon.

"Inside the wagon the atmosphere is snug and homely, and the finer vans have an almost regal splendor. Almost everything one needs is to hand. Even in winter you need never be cold. The fire in the stove, if built up with windows closed for half an hour, will so heat the rails near the roof that they will be too hot to hold." ©From The English Gypsy Caravan by C.H. Ward-Jackson & Denis E.  

This called for an equally eye-catching but strong horse to pull it. This horse was also needed to be hardy to survive the harsh winters without shelter and survive on what can be found when grazing along the roadside.  Gypsies are credited with creating the breed we now know as the Gypsy Vanner Horse, a breed which went largely unnoticed until the 1990s.

In 1996 two Americans, Dennis and Cindy Thompson,  discovered one of these gorgeous horses while visiting England. The adventure that followed led to the recognition of the breed and its subsequent introduction to the United States. The Thompsons also founded the Gypsy Vanner Horse society.

All breeds have a history and the people that bred these magnificent horses prided themselves in passing down the bloodline information from generation to generation.The Gypsy Vanner is thought to be a mix of The Shire, Clydesdale, Dales Pony and Friesian.

"So to be able to pull all this, their horses had to have solid, weighty bodies, huge bone, thick necks, wide chests and a great layback of shoulder. They had to have strong legs and large feet. They had to be unflappable in any situation and absolutely solid and reliable in their interaction with humans, including children. They had to be tough enough to exist in the harshest of weather and often on meagre food sources. They had to be able to pull a caravan all day if necessary covering sometimes 40 miles or more on hard roads or muddy lanes. They had to have a willing work ethic and always do what was required of them. In the past, most existed on what was found growing along country roads when the family camped for the night, so they had to be what we refer to today, as easy keepers"- Original Source Unknown.

Horses that were not up-to-par were sold or traded. Some became workers in cities for the rest of their lives.

London in 1920.
This Vanner and horse, worked for the London and North
Eastern Railway, who operated their own baths for the
Vanner horses

Delivering milk crica 1900. 

Brooklyn Supreme was a purebred Belgian Stallion who stood 19.2 tall and weighed in at over 3,200 pounds (or so they say). He was foaled in Iowa in 1928 and died in 1948.

"Dennis Thompson and his late wife, Cindy, changed the destiny of the selectively bred gypsy horse when they introduced them to the American public, they also established the first registry to give the horses a name and an organization to track the closely guarded, original bloodlines, of the Romany Gypsy breeders." - Gypsy Vanner Dreams

Gypsy Lore Society-
The Gypsy Lore Collection. University of Liverpool
Gypsy Vanner Dreams-
Belladonna Gypsy Farm- -
 The English Gypsy Caravan by C.H. Ward-Jackson & Denis E.  1986 Amazon

Gypsy Vanner Horse Group on Traveling Within The World

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday Feature: Beech Boxes!

Peek at these handmade Beech wood boxes from Hip Folk Art. On hand and for sale.

Hip Folk Art Work Box Beech #7 $36.00 + S/H&I

Hip Folk Art Work Box Beech #8 $36.00 + S/H&I

Contact: Skype 216-298-1549 number (profile name Travelingraggyman)or, if you are brave, e-mail:

Find these items and more on Traveling Within The World.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday Feature: Bamboo Nation

Richard Edwards specializes in handcrafting drinking vessels, canes/staffs, scroll cases, and incense burners & boxes from Bamboo.

Based in Florida, Richard, takes custom orders and performs custom wood burning for your original, one-of-a-kind (OOAK) pieces. The Clown Fish Tankard, pictured above, is one of the many Bamboo Nation works carried by the Castle Life department. Aside from those already mentioned, you may also find some interesting (and slightly unexpected) items...

Meet and interact with other fans and customers of Bamboo Nation here. On Traveling Within The World.

Contact Dept. of Castle Life for ordering information.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday Feature: Vince Conaway- Reprise

About Vince:
A musician and composer, Vince can be found performing a wide variety of music on hammered dulcimer throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. Vince's music is a combination of medieval and Celtic styles, coupling the passion of Irish music and the stateliness of ancient forms.

Thoughtful traditional Celtic music performed on hammered dulcimer.
Genre: Folk: Celtic Folk
Release Date: 2007
Track List

1. Flowers of Edinburgh 3:51
2. Carousel 4:41
3. Swallowtail Jig 2:28
4. Hole in the Wall 3:51
5. Over the Waterfall 3:06
6. Promenade/Gathering Peasecods 4:25
7. Simple Gifts 4:30
8. Harvest Home 4:54
9. Jump at the Sun 3:15
10. A Dream in D 4:03
11. Haste to the Wedding/Kesh Jig 3:47
12. Official Bransle 3:01
13. The Maid Behind the Bar 4:17
14. Greensleeves 3:30
15. John Ryan's Polka 3:03
16. Planxty Fanny Power 5:29
17. Red Haired Boy 2:47
18. Il Campo 4:30
19. Cantiga 6:38

In Reprise, Vince's ninth album, he returns to his Celtic roots. Featuring more thoughtful versions of tunes he has previously recorded.
With recent additions to his Celtic repertoire, and four original tunes,
Reprise includes an impressive 76 minutes of instrumental hammered dulcimer music.

We have one of these in stock @$15.00 + S/H&I Remember we are a road vendor and plastic wrapping does help, but things do get worn in boxes in travel and weather.

Contact here or
SKYPE 216-298-1549 or Travelingraggyman

Vince's Website and Twitter.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Spotlight- The Celts

The Celts encompassed many tribes of peoples who spoke the Celtic languages and, at one time, populated a large portion of central Europe. By 400BC, the Celts spread over much of Western continental Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Ireland and Britain. These tribes reached the height of their expansion around 275 BC. Their languages included Welsh, Irish, Breton, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, and Manx. The later two being extinct or near extinct in the modern day.

How did they come to be called Celts in the first place?
The Greek geographer, Hecataeus of Miletus, is credited with giving us the modern name for this ethnic group around 517 BC. “Celtic” turns out to have originally been a tribal surname, belonging to a tribe encountered by Ceaser himself.

“During the later Iron Age the Gauls generally wore long-sleeved shirts or tunics and long trousers (called braccae by the Romans). Clothes were made of wool or linen, with some silk being used by the rich. Cloaks were worn in the winter. Brooches and armlets were used, but the most famous item of jewellery was the torc, a neck collar of metal, sometimes gold. The horned Waterloo Helmet in the British Museum, which long set the standard for modern images of Celtic warriors, is in fact a unique survival, and may have been a piece for ceremonial rather than military wear.” - Wikipedia

Art of the Celts
The La Tene era (500BC-15BC) is known for metalwork; weaponry, tools, and general ornamentation. The Celtic Knotwork we think of today as “Celtic” may have actually been introduced during the Germanic **Migration Period and influenced by the Roman world. These flowing geometric patterns are referred to as Insular Art.

“Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of the British Isles. The term derives from insula, the Latin term for "island"; in this period Britain and Ireland shared a largely common style different from that of the rest of Europe. Arts historians usually group insular art as part of the Migration Period art movement as well as Early Medieval Western art, and it is the combination of these two traditions that give the style its special character” - Wikipedia

“… the [La Tene] culture was more militaristic and its burial sites reveal an abundance of swords, spearheads, shields and protective armour, as well as everyday items such as cauldrons, yokes, and razors. Jewellery is also common, and some pieces are exquisite - notably the finely made gold torcs. La Tene designwork, found on a wide range of objects is more mature and more complex. It includes the elaborate swirling patterns of Celtic knotwork which reached their apogee during this period.” Visual Arts Cork

**“Migration Period art is the artwork of Germanic peoples during the Migration period of 300 to 900. It includes the Migration art of the Germanic tribes on the continent, as well the start of the Insular art or Hiberno-Saxon art of the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic fusion in the British Isles. It covers many different styles of art including the polychrome style and the animal style. Migration Period art is one of the major periods of medieval art.” - Wikipedia

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Castle Life Artisans Featured in this Article:
Bats in the Belfry

Celtic Musicians:

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