“If I had stayed in Germany, I’d be rich by now. But here in Calabria I have billions in my heart. Rediscovering and building the Calabrian lyra, hearing its sound in ethno-musical festivals and in other countries, reviving the tradition of this instrument are the greatest satisfactions. They make me happy”.
The joy of Francesco Siviglia, luthier of the Calabrian lyra, comes all out.
This is what happened to me: from his workshop in Bova Marina, Francesco told me how he rediscovered this ancient Calabrian instrument, whose scores were handed down verbally from father to son… and how much patience, passion and tact it takes to make the Calabrian lyra.
Building the Calabrian lira: Francesco’s discovery
Cabinet maker, carpenter, restorer and builder of Baroque style furniture, Francesco Siviglia is known in Calabria above all as a luthier of the Calabrian lyra.
An instrument of Greek origin, the traditional Calabrian lyra was used in Locride (Greek: Λοκρίδα), on Monte Poro and in other areas of the Greek-speaking area of Calabria.
He accompanied the Calabrian tarantella with other typical instruments, such as the pipes, tambourines and accordion.
“It was in this time that I heard for the first time the sound of the Calabrian lyra, an instrument that I did not know. I got goosebumps. It was love at first sight ”, Francesco tells me.
As in all relationships, though, if you don’t commit, love isn’t rewarded.
This luthier knows it well, and in 2007 in his workshop, started building the Calabrian lyra with selected wood. Now he exports his unique pieces all over the world, just like Sergio Pugliesi with his beating guitar!
From the workshop to lutherie courses, research and passion
“At the age of eight I had a passion for wood. When I was 14, I went to the workshop for almost two years. But then life took another course, taking me to Germany. I stayed there for 10 years. After I realised it was time to go back to Calabria,” said Francesco.
In Bova Marina, he opened his shop to make handcrafted furniture. Until the meeting with Ettore Castagna: they were at the “Festival Paleariza” (which in Calabrian-Greek means ancient root), an ethno-cultural-musical event that takes place in the Greek-speaking areas of Reggio Calabria.
“It enticed me so much that I decided to build the Calabrian lyra, always looking for perfection. In fact, I was never satisfied: this is why I took lutherie courses in Cremona to learn the technical aspects and always improve.”
This Calabrian luthier understood that to perfect himself it was important to follow courses but also the Calabrian popular ethnic music festivals. This was so much so that in 2013 Francesco created and promoted, with his association “Area grecanica in tour”, the “Festival of artists”.
Then in 2019 it became “Euterpe Lira Festival,” a folk music event of the Greek-speaking area with traditional instruments.
Precious wood andstrings for the Calabrian lyra
“How to build the Calabrian lira? And how long does it take?” I asked him.
Francesco takes a moment to pause. Then he begins to explain everything to me, starting from an important concept: “Without passion and imagination you cannot work wood. For a flat-bottomed Calabrian lyra it takes me a week. For the rounded one, even 15 days. For a good soundboard, a lot depends on the choice of wood.”
To build the Calabrian lyra Francesco uses local wood: mulberry, walnut, alder, acacia. The soundboard can be of spruce or silver fir. Everything is chosen with the utmost care, such as the numerous steps to make the Calabrian lyra.
From the choice of wood to seasoning, from drawing (marking) to working with the tools of the trade to hollow out the chosen wood log. Then there is the construction of the soundboard, glued to the upper part of the Calabrian lyra.
Up to the correspondence, to the creation of the pegs, where the gut strings of the Calabrian lyra are stretched, and the bridge between the two holes, without forgetting the polishing, the rehearsal and the final tuning.
The challenge of Francesco Siviglia: to revive the Symphonia
In his workshop on the outskirts of Bova Marina, Francesco creates not only Calabrian lyra but also the Symphonia.
The Symphonia is a particular instrument that produces a sound similar to that of the bagpipe, but only wood and three gut or nylon strings.
“When you hear its sound, it is as if you were projected into antiquity,” he said.
Francesco speaks with enthusiasm. It is there, in his workshop, amidst Calabrian lyra’s, drawings, tools of the trade and a lot of passion, this luthier digs into musical history to restore soul to so many Calabrian instruments that are in danger of disappearing.
At the end of this journey with the luthier Francesco Siviglia
Now the Calabrian lira is beginning to be appreciated and played also abroad. Thus, the luthier Francesco Siviglia creates this ancient instrument from Calabria, exporting unique specimens to Europe and beyond.
He knows that craftsmanship means having patience and that everything is measured with time, with passion. In his workshop, the stories of artists and musicians meet, sounds of the past that weave new harmonies with the present.
The future? It will be the rediscovery of another traditional instrument of this land, where Francesco Siviglia lives with his wife Tsveti, a painter of Greek Orthodox icons, and Ares, his dog who keeps him company in the workshop.
Thus, every bond becomes complicity, love, commitment: all that is needed for the scores to be handed down over time.
Marika Greco took the photos for author Alessia Antonucci.