John Knotts' life-long ambition to build a replica of a stunning 4500-year-old lyre has been achieved on the cusp of the last notes being played on his eventful life.

Severely weakened by incurable heart disease and living on borrowed time, the flower grower, boat builder and self-confessed tinkerer has nearly finished the lyre which first stirred his imagination when he was just 18-years-old.

The student of ancient Mesopotamian cultures has spent 1500 hours on the labour of love that will culminate in a poignant performance when the lyre is played at a multi-media concert in Baycourt on April 2.

It represents a compelling juxtaposition. As his life reaches its conclusion, the Lyre of Tauranga will live on as a symbol of hope and revival.


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Mr Knotts,75, built three prototypes to get the size right, using a high-resolution photo sent by the British Museum of its duplicate of the 4500-year Golden Bull Lyre of Ur.

"I had to build the bull's head and scale everything up from that."

The original sacred lyre was destroyed for its gold when Iraq's national museum was looted by robbers during America's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But his inspiration predated the invasion by 44 years when he gazed with fascination at pictures from a book showing a woman playing the lyre, the first known string instrument and precursor of the guitar.

The event which set him on the path to build the lyre happened when his father-in-law, who had been to Iraq, said he had never seen the instrument. "He was 95 and he came every day to take photos of the progress."

Mr Knotts decided that the lyre should have a distinctly New Zealand flavour and has used New Zealand redwood for the frame and paua, pounamu (green stone) and oyster shell for the decoration.

Mr Knotts makes no attempt to hide the fact that he is "virtually terminal but still managing". His failing health meant it was even a strain to string the lyre after a harpist advised him to make a new bridge to improve its sound.


He has donated the $35,000 lyre to the Incubator at the Historic Village. "Without their support, it would never have got to this stage."

Mr Knotts' wife, Jackie, said her husband was living on borrowed time and lot of people were coming from different directions for the concert.

Incubator manager and artist Simone Anderson described the lyre as a legacy that will be celebrated at the concert. Natalia Mann, a New Zealand born harpist will play the lyre. Asked what attracted her to the project, she said: "The most interesting aspect for me is why has this cultural artifact appeared in Tauranga in the 21st Century. What on earth shall we do with it? It is so far from home."

Photo/John Borren
Photo/John Borren

The April 2 concert at Baycourt:

* The Lyre of Tauranga will sing songs of war and peace.

* Sundus Abdul Hadi, an Iraqi/Canadian artist, will provide the cultural context.

* Harpist Natalia Mann will perform original compositions on the lyre

* Jo'el Komene will play ancient Maori instruments.