Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lyre-playing technique and biblical psalmody

Yesterday I received a ten-stringed lyre made by Marini Made Harps and you can see some photographs (in slideshow format) I took of it yesterday here. How it sounds when put in the C minor scale and played with the fingers is well-illustrated by this video put up by another owner of such a lyre.

I tuned the lyre to the basic psalmodic scale as Mme. Haik-Vantoura inferred it from the Masoretic accents, thus extended over the ten-string range:

C D# (E) F# G A B C D# E - where (E) is the tonic of the basic scale.

Just now I was noodling with this lyre, using a guitar pick in keeping with the common practice of playing the kinnor with a plectrum (as Josephus noted for the kinnorot of the Temple). I was playing the melody reconstructed by Haik-Vantoura for Psalms 24:1-7, and found something which surely has relevance for Duane Christensen's consideration of the rhythmic patterns in Psalms, but also for the melodic construction of the Psalms.

Amazingly, the accentuation as preserved in the Letteris Edition for these verses (which differs from that of other versions at critical junctures) leads one to play in a consistent left-right stroking pattern note for note, beginning and ending each verse with a left stroke on the string. No exceptions in those verses, which retain the same mode or musical scale type (it alters in most of the rest of the Psalm).

What if that pattern is consistent in the rest of the Psalms? That could go a VERY long way to explaining why the Psalms have the "melopoetic" metrics that they do. In that scenario, originally the melodic line of the voice or voices would be doubled by the lead kinnor, presumably while other instruments added heterophony as required.

Another potential area of exploration would be variant readings in the printed editions I have and what MS. facsimilies I can look at. Readings which didn't fit the basic pattern of playing I just described - the most natural way of playing the instrument note by note with a plectrum - might well be dismissed as among the many scribal or editorial changes intended to make the notation more "self-consistent" by one arbitrary standard or another.

Best wishes,
John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)