Jon Letcher is a maker of harps and other traditional musical instruments, and is based near Bishop’s Castle in the Welsh marches. He originally trained as a boat builder, and worked for about ten years in boatyards in his native East Anglia and in New Zealand before becoming deeply involved in Britain’s pioneer biogas industry, as co-founder of the specialist company which built digesters for Royal Farms, the Duchy of Cornwall and many other farms. For relaxation, he made traditional musical instruments, especially Norfolk dulcimers; and when Britain’s embryo digester industry collapsed in the 1990s, due to changes in government policy, he began to make instruments professionally. Being self-taught, he felt the need for a more formal training, and his QEST Scholarship (2001) enabled him to work with London Guildhall University’s Musical Instrument Technology Department to reinforce and extend his skills, and his Celtic harps in particular are now sold in several European countries, as well as Britain.
He now makes three different ranges of harp, as well as dulcimers and psalteries. As harps are relatively expensive instruments, many children in particular start by hiring a harp, and Jon has recently begun a new initiative to hire harps directly to schools, in order to give more children, including those whose parents are unable to afford to hire a harp themselves, the chance to learn the instrument. He also has a particular interest in instrument-based projects which highlight connections between different cultures, and has worked with local makers, musicians and students in Hungary, Iran, China and Egypt. One ongoing project involves making authentic reproductions of instruments from ancient Iraq, including the iconic 4,600 year old ‘Golden Lyre of Ur’, which has featured in radio and TV programmes in this and other countries, and appeared in many international venues and events, including the Library of Congress in the USA, and a pan-Arab summit in Baghdad.
Although he makes his living purely from his craftsmanship, Jon has kept in touch with the biogas industry, and has written a book about farm digesters, describing their importance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems, which will be published by Green Books in Britain, the USA and some other countries early in 2015. His latest project is a reproduction of the Silver Lyre (the original is now in the British Museum) which - together with the Golden Lyre and two other instruments - was also found at Ur. The Lyres of Ur project is an international collaboration between craftspeople of various disciplines - while Jon makes the instruments themselves, the Silver Lyre, for example, is being encased in silver by students at a university in Florence; and one of Jon’s future ambitions is to work with Iraqi craftsmen to make reproductions of the other two ancient instruments found at Ur.