A lyre for woodwind, brass and percussion instruments is essential for any musician who needs to read music whilst on the move. Whether they are playing in a military band procession, a high school football game, or Christmas carolling, they save a musician from having to memorise hours of musical parts. In this blog, we’ll explain the history behind the lyre, how they attach to instruments, and how to choose the right one.
The Lyre Musical Instrument
A lyre is actually a U-shaped stringed instrument with strings fixed to a crossbar, originating from ancient Greece. According to ancient Greek mythology, the young god Hermes stole a herd of sacred cows from Apollo. In order not to be followed, he made shoes for the cows which forced them to walk backwards. Apollo, following the trails, could not follow where the cows were going. Along the way, Hermes slaughtered one of the cows and offered all but the entrails to the gods. From the entrails and a tortoise/turtle shell, he created the Lyre. Apollo, figuring out it was Hermes who had his cows, confronted the young god. Apollo was furious, but after hearing the sound of the lyre, his anger faded, and he offered to trade the herd of cattle for the lyre. Hence, it’s creation being attributed to Hermes.
Numerous variations of this instrument can be found all across the world, including being played by statues! You’ll notice that the cardholders used to hold music as musicians march have the same shape, hence being called lyres!
What are Lyres Made From?
Lyres – the type that holds your music on the move – are made in a selection of different materials, including durable plastic and metal, and in a variety of finishes such as:
When choosing the appearance of your lyre, the finish of the lyres used by the rest of the ensemble should be considered. This is important to make sure you all match!
Where do Lyres Attach to the Instrument?
Depending on the instrument in question, lyres can be attached in different ways. For example, lyres for brass instruments can be attached by clamping them onto the lead pipe, mouthpiece receiver, or bell. If your instrument has a lyre box, a lyre with either a straight or a bent stem can be used. The type of stem used is dependent on how the box has been aligned. These lyres also come with different stem lengths to accommodate a range of instrument types and brands. If you don’t have a lyre box on your instrument and don’t want to use the clamp-on type, you can purchase clamp-on lyre boxes!
Clarinettists have the option to place the lyre in the centre or at the bell of the instrument. This is usually down to player preference, and whether they can read music placed right at the end of their instrument. Flautists, on the other hand, can actually attach lyres to themselves, as opposed to their flute. They come attached to straps of leather which can be tightened around the wrist or the upper arm.
Lyres are also available for drums and attach to the side of the instrument, and sometimes to its tension screws.
Most instrument lyres will bend to complement the exact shape of your instrument, and the angle you would like to view your music at!
How to Choose the Correct Lyre?
In order to guarantee a secure fit that will withstand even the most rigorous of routines, it’s important to choose the correct lyre for you and your instrument.
A good one will allow the musician to easily read and change their march cards, whilst marching and playing at the same time! They should also keep your music secure, whilst being positioned at the perfect distance to read your music.
When using a good lyre, music books and cards will fit securely in the spring-loaded clasp. This keeps them steady and easy to read. The last thing a musician wants is for their music to suddenly fall out as they’re playing! They should also have an adjustable head, allowing the player to adjust how far away the music is.
Lyres that are designed to attach directly to your instrument should also not leave any damage behind. Some have a vinyl coating, whilst others have foam rubber or felt underneath the clamps. This will prevent unnecessary scratching from occurring.
Here at BBICO, the lyres we stock are based on a traditional specification and design by Boosey & Hawkes in the 1930s. To order your lyre or cardholder from the British Band Instrument Company, please contact us here.