AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE
I didn’t know I wanted a lyre. For that matter, the subject of lyres had not — recently or possibly ever — entered my conscious mind except when I heard the words from Psalm 150: “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre . . .” And then the conscious thought lasted, maybe a millisecond.
Have you ever locked eyes with someone across a room, and fallen hopelessly in love? There’s only one fix and it comes from the soundtrack of the movie South Pacific, courtesy of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II: “Some enchanted evening / When you find your true love, / When you feel her call you / Across a crowded room, / Then fly to her side, / And make her your own / Or all through your life you / May dream all alone.”
It was afternoon, not evening, and I was in a park, outside. It didn’t matter.
I love music. I was forced to take piano lessons when we moved into town the year I started high school. My piano teacher meant well, I suppose, but she didn’t sense that an insecure teenager was not going to be happy playing scales and baby compositions. I never did learn to play well. Years later I was given a gift of a small ukulele. Think Tiny Tim. I hated it. The strings cut my fingers and it didn’t fit my arms. At the first possible opportunity I gave it away to someone who could appreciate it. I do have a fairly good electronic organ I play rarely, and only for my own amusement, because the nerves wipe out what skill I have.
But there it was. I was staring at the one musical instrument I knew I could learn to play, that I already loved.
We talked. I learned that the lyre is at least as old as David. But his was designed with horns curving up over the top. I learned that Valdemar’s handcrafted lyre, with the curved top, was in the Anglo-Saxon style, used by Vikings who probably figured out fairly quickly that horn-like appendages would not go down well on a crowded boat.
I learned later, when I asked Valdemar directly, that he had not planned to sell the lyre. For starters, he was playing it during the big parade on Monday. We agreed I could claim it after the parade. What sealed the deal? Your face, he told me. The joy. Besides, he said, God had given him the wherewithal to make another one over the winter.
He carved his maker’s mark into the back. It’s the Elder Futhark rune for V or W. It’s pronounced Wunjo. It means “joy.”
In the heat of the moment, I ignored a little bit of reality. Valdemar is right-handed. I am not. Blessings on the Foam Lake musician who re-strung and tuned Wunjo, and found an Internet guitar tuning site, and taught me to adapt it to the Viking tuning for a six-string lyre. Blessings on the other professional who tightened up the wooden pegs with his compound. I didn’t know that musicians were so giving. I didn’t know that, wrapped around the one instrument that belongs in my arms, I am comfortable playing in front of professionals — even though I make up the music as I go along.
With only five notes, Wunjo does offer some challenges. I will never be able to play, I’ve Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Back In My Bed Crying In My Beer Over You. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever going to play any modern songs.
However, it does talk with me — of thunder and wind, of great storms, of waves breaking on a rocky shore, of quiet moments, of sunsets spilling out across calm waters. And, even though David’s lyre had more strings than mine has, I understand why David’s psalms were composed for his lyre. Wunjo sings shared dreams, soaring ecstasy and gentle joy. It is more than enough.
Eyolfson Cadham is an award-winning columnist and freelance journalist who moved from Montreal to Foam Lake in 1992. She is a member of Sask. Writers Guild and is an oral storyteller who has professional status with Storytellers of Canada.