The Art of the Lyra: Crete's Stelios Petrakis
Set off a busy street in Crete's capital city Heraklion, Stelios Peterakis greeted us into his sunlit workshop, surrounded by unfinished Bulgari bodies. I discovered him through WOMEX and tracked him down when I knew we were going to be on Crete. He was kind enough to let us crash his studio and talk with him about his talents, both musician and luthier. His new record "The Art of the Lyra" received glowing reviews from Songlines Magazine.
Stelios is a modern day lyra master and one of the finest musicians on Crete today. He's performed at Royal Albert Hall, been at the top of world music charts, and has shared his music with an international audience. But what I loved is that he builds the instruments himself- lyras, lutes, bulgaris and a nod to our American culture: mandolins. Sipping tea, he told us about his wood-working process and the art of Cretan music.
SM: When did you start building the lyra? (The Cretan lyra is the most popular surviving form of the medieval Byzantine lyra, an ancestor of most European bowed instruments.)
SP: The Cretan lyra was a new experiment. There was only one luthier on Crete who made the lyra, but he denied me because he was so busy making classical violins. I didn’t have any other option except trying to make one myself. Of course, my first instrument was a disaster! But step by step, instrument by instrument, I kept improving. After a few years I was able to make instruments that sounded good and were easy to play. I’ve now been doing this professionally for 10 years.
SM: What kinds of materials are used in making the instruments?
SP: Mulberry is well-known all over Greece, Turkey and Iran. It's because of the silk. The silk worms feed from the mulberry leaves, so there is a lot of extra wood lying around. Plus, it sounds good. Otherwise maple and rosewood from forest woods and for the top, we use spruce and cedar.
SM: Do you consider yourself first a musician or instrument maker?
SP: It’s half-half, but if I had to choose, I would definitely put all my power into playing good concerts. My first preference is to make good music.
SM: What is the difference between Cretan music and Greek music?
SP: The music of Crete is like an idiom. It belongs to Greek music but Greek musicians cannot easily play Cretan music and Cretan musicians cannot easily play Greek music. There are some connections between the two, but not really close. Greek music is Rebetiko with Bouzouki, clarinet music from Iberia and Macedonia, and from Bulgaria, with the Gaida. The music of the island of the Aegean Sea is with violins and lute, closest to the music of Crete. The Art of the Lyra on iTunes Stelios Petrakis Official SiteStelios Petrakis Live at WOMEX