Konstantinos Maris

2004 Florida Folk Heritage Award

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The lyra is the most popular melodic instrument on the Greek island of Crete. It is a bowed instrument similar to the violin, which musicians play in an upright position, resting it on the knee and pressing the tops of their fingernails against the sides of the strings. The Cretan Iaouto frequently accompanies the lyra.

Lyra musician and maker Konstantinos Maris was born in Athens, but his father came from Crete and his mother from the nearby island of Karpathos—where the lyra also is played. As a child, Maris loved the music played by his father and other Cretan musicians. At twelve, he worked to earn enough money to buy a used lyra and devoted himself to learning the instrument. Maris took it up more seriously in 1966, after school, military service, and training as a maritime engineer.  His most important influence was lyra master artist Thanassis Skordalos, with whom he sometimes played. 

In 1967 Maris moved to New York, where he was widely regarded as one of the best lyra players in the U.S. He performed in Carnegie Hall and other venues with the Greek Popular Chorus of New York, established by Mikis Theodorakis. He also frequently played for local clubs, PanCretan Association events throughout the U.S., and at the 1976 Festival of American Folklife. Through performances in Miami, Maris came to love the city and moved there in 1979. From 1982-1983 he participated in the Greek Music Tour sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ethnic Folk Arts Center. He moved to Tarpon Springs and began to spend more time playing and making lyras in the 1990s.

Maris’ musical repertoire includes more than 100 songs. In addition, he is skilled in the extemporaneous composition of mantinades—verses consisting of two 15-syllable lines often sung to the slow Cretan line dance called the sighanos Mantinades are infused with emotion, and topics may range from love to recent events. Maris performs several other types of songs and dances suitable for a variety of occasions, including the Erotokritos—folk songs based on the epic love poem composed in the 16th century by Vicenzo Cornaros; amanesrizitika; traditional dance genres such as the sirtospentozalissousta, and maleviziotis; and a range of new and old popular music.

Maris and his father started making lyras in 1969. They acquired substantial knowledge about woods, sound reproduction, and other technical aspects by disassembling several instruments . Maris also visited violin workshops to learn more about the properties of woods and how to create the scroll. He usually makes the lyra body from mulberry or walnut to ensure sound quality. For the top, he prefers katran (possibly a type of pine)—found only on the islands near Turkey—which produces a distinctively Cretan sound. Today the lyra is strung with durable metal strings. To finish the instrument, Maris covers the fingerboard with a plastic inlay so that the musician’s fingernails will not gouge the wood and make it difficult to place the fingers correctly. Finally, he carves the back with an eagle or partridge, and inlays the fingerboard with mother of pearl designs.