At Play In The Archive
Though I can scrounge up no personal memory of actually hearing my great-grandpa Leo play the zither, I have long known that he did. Perhaps his hands were no longer dexterous enough to play by the time I came along. I do know that he loved music (which made his job at the opera house so perfect), and we are very fortunate to still have his instrument in the family. It lives with my mom, Sue Lessiack Stabler, in Panama, and she was kind enough to supply this picture. Isn’t Leo’s zither a beauty?
I wanted to get a sense of what the zither sounds like, and how it is played, so I turned to trusty old YouTube for some examples. My favorite is Anton Karas playing his hit theme from The Third Man. This video gives you a good idea of both how the zither sounds, and how it is played by a master.
Among Leo’s things, I found a great deal of zither sheet music, some of it handwritten. Given the later examples I have of Leo’s handwriting, I rather doubt that it was written by Leo, but it’s pretty impressive stuff no matter who did the scribing.
This example is interesting because it pertains to Steiermark, where my great-great grandfather Anton Lessiack was from. I wonder if maybe he was also a zither player, and if he wrote out all this music. Whatever the case, somebody boogied to the Steiermark Shake (or whatever this song is actually called).
Given my own travails at the piano, I find this all so impressive. I’ve recently taken up the accordion, which, unbeknownst to me until my mom told me, my Grandpa Bob Lessiack also played. I only remember him playing the organ, and geez, the man had chops. As I painfully oom-pah-pah my way through tunes designed to teach kindergartners, I regret that all these musical genes somehow skipped me. They definitely landed in Grace, though, who plays flute, trombone, and guitar, and has recently taken up the Celtic tin whistle, much to the agony of the dog and the older sister. But I digress.
Here’s some more zither music from Leo’s collection. Again, some of it might have belonged to his father, Anton.
In case you’re wondering what other songs people played on the zither, I leave you with a couple of lists from the backs of the sheet music. The first one is clearly American, because it was published in New York.
This one is German, and it neatly divides the songs into different types: Waltzes, Polkas, and so on.
My mom made a sad discovery when she photographed Leo’s zither for me. It has a huge crack running up the back, probably the result of it being left stringed, and then subjected to changes in temperature. The good news is that I’ve spoken to two different restorers who both say that it can be repaired. Mom’s going to bring it with her the next time she comes to visit, and we’ll get that show on the road.
Happy Wednesday, People.