The zither would make an excellent substitute for an organ in church services.
There’s something so spiritually powerful about two nuns singing Latin hymns, and even more so when they have excellent voices. Released in 2016, the video features Camaldolese nuns Sister Myriam Manca and Sister Regina Muscat singing “Psalm 21” in beautiful harmony, while Sr. Manca accompanies the two on a zither.
The zither is an instrument that has been in development since ancient times, with evidence of its existence dating all the way back to Greece in 1600 BC. Rather than one particular instrument, zither is a blanket term that covers a variety of stringed instruments, with set tones, that do not extend past the sound box. These are the precursors of guitars and even the harpsichord, and thus the piano. In fact, if you opened up a harpsichord’s body, the insides would look like an enlarged version of the zither Sr. Manca plays.
A somewhat primitive instrument, the zither is only capable of making predetermined chords and is somewhat limited in its melodic lines, due to the absence of frets. Sr. Manca plays the droning chords with the left hand, while the right hand is afforded the ability to pluck out the melodic line on the thinner strings.
Together with Sr. Muscat, Sr. Manca’s gentle rendition of “Psalm 21” creates lovely harmonies, which reverberate off through the room to create a soothing atmosphere. Accented by the soft plucking of the strings, the songs takes on the tones of a lullaby as it moves through the traditional Latin text.
“Here in Camaldoli, many people come to the ‘Divine Master oasis’ for a time of silence and prayer. They often attend the liturgy and are attracted by the instrument I play, called the zither. At the end of the day, they always ask if I have recorded anything. Actually, I never had. But now we have decided to record several of our songs. The songs are used mainly for the liturgy, so they have a rather slow melody which aids reflection and turns one’s attention in a special way to God’s Word. This is a proclamation of the Word of God that passes through the strings of the harp, through chords of music.”