Nicholas Ladd, an American postgraduate student from the state of Connecticut who is studying media theory and filmmaking at the Film School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, is taking an online course in the ancient lyre at the only academy in the world that specializes in such instruction.
The academy is based out of the Seikilo Museum, a museum displaying reconstructed ancient Greek musical instruments in a space in the center of Thessaloniki. A lover of Greece, Ladd composes original music based on his research into ancient Greek musicology and is currently working on a film that will dramatize the cultural events that took place in Athens in 540 BC.
Ladd’s love for the ancient lyre began at an early age. His father had a shop that repaired guitars and so he learned early about the “families” of certain musical instruments, and found out that the ancient lyre is an ancestor of the guitar. “I’ve always had a keen interest in musical instruments and how they evolve over time,” he explained recently in an interview with ANA-MPA (Athens Macedonian News Agency).
Ladd learned about the Seikilo Museum and the lyre academy through “their many wonderful videos on YouTube. I was happy to see what they’re doing and the way they’ve developed the sound quality of these instruments.”
When the pandemic began, he fought the boredom of lockdown by reading ancient epic poetry, Homer and Hesiod in particular. “I thought about the many references and the importance that ancient lyres had during this important period of history,” he noted. With the help of Lina Palera, his teacher at the academy and a well-known ancient lyre player who has given concerts in Greece and abroad, Ladd has learned a lot about this instrument and its musical tradition.
A student of history as well as of music, Ladd is planning to make a film based on the cultural events that took place in Athens in 540 BC. He is in the early stages of research that could last many years. “I am now beginning to ‘listen’ to the musical world of that time. It’s not the most popular period of ancient Athens; it’s just a little before that. It’s a time when, from what I understand, music was extremely important. It was at the center of one’s spiritual education.”
By learning to play the ancient lyre, Ladd is trying to “feel” the rhythm of that time. His film will depict the period when theater, drama and the dialectics of politics all began, and look to examine the ways in which these developments are all connected.” Academic research has shown me that there are many links between artistic and political culture. There’s a lot of room for imagination, however, because there isn’t much evidence available so you have to approach it creatively,” he explains.
The world’s first academy for the ancient lyre
Nicholas Ladd isn’t the only foreign student studying at the ancient lyre online academy. Those enrolled – there are about 45 individuals on the course in what is the program’s inaugural year – are from all over the world. There are French, Australian and other American attendees. In fact, only three students are from Greece.
Both the Seikilo Museum and the lyre academy were founded by the Koumartzis family, who have a workshop in Evropos, in the Kilkis area, where they make replicas of ancient Greek instruments in collaboration with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the International University of Greece.
“There was a significant demand for ancient Greek instruments from music therapists, teachers and academics from all over the world,” Theodore Koumartzis noted, speaking in the same interview and explaining why the workshop and the academy were created. “Lina Palera has her own approach to the ancient Greek lyre because, let’s not forget, this is a musical instrument that was ‘lost’ for many years, so we don’t know exactly how it was played.”
The academy offers a range of courses aimed at every level from beginners to professional musicians. “We’ve been in contact with other players of the ancient Greek lyre, both in Greece and abroad, who – indirectly or directly – are taking part in the effort we are making to revive this musical instrument in a significant way,” said Koumarzis.
Speaking of the students, Lina Palera noted: “All of them have a great love for ancient Greece and for its music and musical instruments.” She added that, from the beginning, she wanted to reach an international student body, and this could only be done online. In her travels and concerts abroad, she has met many people, especially from France and America, who showed great interest in the ancient lyre.
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” on the ancient lyre
Lina Palera explained to ANA MPA that there is a wealth of material about the ancient lyre – in ancient Greece, it was the main instrument for about a thousand years – but what enchanted her was that “I wasn’t limited to admiring this instrument in a museum; I could take it in my hands and explore it.”
She’s composed a lot of modern pieces of music for the instrument. In the fall of 2020, she released her album “Aurora,” which includes adaptations and her own pieces. There’s also a number called “A Song from Algeri” by Apostolos Kaldaras, translated into French on this album since, as Palera said, the second language in Algiers is French.
Her dream is for the ancient lyre to find a home in modern music, which is why modern pieces of music, including works by Celine Dion, Metallica and Led Zeppelin, are taught at the academy.
You can find out more about the lyre academy on YouTube, here.
This article is based on an interview that first appeared on the website of ANA MPA (Athens Macedonian News Agency)