Stephen Craveiro holding the cithara he hand made.
Hometown: Harrisville, RI
Nero didn’t fiddle while Rome burned because the fiddle hadn’t yet been invented. But the emperor did play the cithara, an ancient musical instrument that history major Stephen Craveiro replicated last spring.
Assistant Professor of History Bridget Buxton encouraged him to combine his passions for music and history in an independent study project researching and building an ancient instrument. Together they chose the 11-string instrument resembling a lyre that can be strummed like a guitar or plucked like a harp. “The cithara was the virtuoso’s instrument, the rock star guitarist’s instrument of the time,” Stephen said.
In Roman times, the instrument was built from parts of old furniture, so when his father came home with an antique hickory chair one day, its back became the instrument’s frame, and its legs were incorporated into the design as well. The sound box is a genuine mahogany cigar box, and the tuning pegs and nylon strings are recycled from some of Stephen’s old guitars.
Not only did he build it, he also played it for one of Buxton’s classes. “Steve is a talented musician. He even tuned it to the same chord structure that the ancients used. The instrument is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship and the result of some very sophisticated research,” she said.
That’s the thing about URI, you can always find a way to turn what you love into credits. “This thing started out as an academic exercise, but when it started coming to fruition, it became much more than that,” Stephen said. “I wanted to make it a playable instrument. We’ll just have to wait and see where else it takes me.”