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An Introduction

The Reproduction Process

In this section, an overview and brief description of the reproduction process of several instruments spanning over 2,000 years is explored. Until the latter part of the 20th Century AD, the study of ancient musical instruments remained largely the preserve of a few dedicated archaeologists.

Surviving very old instruments, when recovered, were written about, drawn and photographed. Any actual playing was reserved for the very few entirely complete examples and was kept to an absolute minimum due to the intrusive nature of playing on an ancient delicate artefact. In Europe, the first instruments from antiquity to be accurately reproduced were examples of Late Bronze Age lur. These are long curved horns from North Germany and Scandinavia. Lurs were commissioned by governments for use as National symbols. In Germany in the 1930s the National Socialist Party had many lurs made to exemplify a supposed ancient Germanic superiority. Yet little or no real study was conducted into how lurs may have been played originally, rather a modern music idiom was imposed on them.

Among the first real pioneers into ancient instrument reproduction and exploration was Dr. Peter Holmes of London. His deep interest in metallurgy and manufacturing combined with a love of trumpet playing opened a new door into ancient music. His initial exploration was taken up by Ancient Music Ireland in 1987. It was realised that an instrument on display in a glass case would always reveal only the visual and design aspects – therefore remaining a silent artefact. To understand an instrument fully it was necessary to be able to play it repeatedly so as to accustom the player’s body to the necessary method and to fully explore the potential musically, i.e. what the instrument liked or didn’t like. This would only be realised on an exact copy or reproduction. In 1987 a new Irish Late Bronze Age horn was cast in London by John Summerville or Ancient Music Ireland under the supervision of Dr. Peter Holmes. Thus, began an era of musical exploration and discovery which opened up an exciting world of sound for love, loss, war, ceremony, royal fanfare, entertainment, healing and signalling.

The key to understanding prehistoric musical instruments is accurate reproduction. An original artefact that may be thousands of years old is both rare and delicate. Yet to be able to play an instrument properly, it is important to practice repeatedly over a long period of time to train the body and mind of the functions that are required to play.

Therefore, the only solution is to make a perfect new copy which will perform the same functions as the original and have the same sound and tuning. Not only is much learnt from the reproduction musically, but also the crafts which were employed to make instruments have to be re-discovered. This in itself reveals a depth of knowledge and ability form pre-history and casts new light on our ancient culture

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