Cantefable weaves musical tales in Auburn

Duo brings Celtic sound from Germany
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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Irish music lovers are in for a treat over the next two weekends – a variety of performers will help ring in St. Patrick’s Day throughout Auburn.

Cantefable, based in East Germany, will play Sunday, March 11, as part of Pioneer Presents “Harps, Flutes and Fiddles” at Pioneer United Methodist Church, and March 18 at Music & More Theatre. The duo is made up of singer and harpist Nancy Thym, an Auburn native, and Thilo Viehrig, a German violinist.

The word “cantefable,” Thym said, is a medieval term meaning a story that is both spoken and sung or told with music.

“So that’s what we do,” she said. “We have a lot of music, but we do a lot of stories as well, and I sing.”

And the pair certainly has some interesting stories to tell. Thym grew up in Auburn and studied folklore and enthnomusicology – traditional music – at the University of California, Los Angeles. She moved to Germany at age 26 to build a hurdy gurdy – a stringed instrument whose noise is produced by turning a crank – and also learned to build a harp, instilling in her a love of the two instruments. She also plays the hammer dulcimer, a stringed in-strument played with small mallets.

In addition to playing them, Viehrig restores musical instruments – the violin he’ll bring to Auburn is 300 years old. The couple met at the University of Leipzig in 2003, when Viehrig was commissioned to restore the instruments “played” by a circle of angel statues in a cathedral. Thym was called in to determine whether the angels’ harps were playable, and Cantefable was born.

In addition to performing and teaching, the couple is in the midst of restoring a Gothic house, constructed in 1493, to turn it into a center for early music.

Thym said she returns to Auburn a couple of times a year to visit her parents, Al and Eileen Thym. Last year she performed with Celtic group Golden Bough for her father’s 90th birthday.

This trip will focus on Celtic music, played on early instruments. Thym promises a show full of medieval music, Irish and Scottish ballads and even old drinking songs, interspersed with medieval stories. 

“I think anyone who loves Celtic music or Gothic music or ancient harp – anything to do with harps or stringed instruments – will really enjoy this performance, especially with the modern twist that she offers,” said Michael Coder, co-owner of Music and More Theater.

Sue Dings, co-producer of Pioneer Presents, said she looks forward to hearing Thym, whose mother is a longtime church member and sings in the choir. The series, Dings emphasized, is intended to benefit the whole community and is not exclusively for church members.

“She’s just been a friend for a long time, and she’s an expert on harps,” Dings said. “She’s well-known throughout Europe.”

Thym said she’ll play several harps in Auburn, bringing over a selection from her extensive collection, which includes medieval and Renaissance harps.

“I started out on the harp that I built,” she explained. “I took lessons on that one, and then I started getting more and more about harps, and the more I knew about the harps the more I needed, because you can’t play a 12th century piece on a 16th century harp – it just doesn’t work.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter at @AuburnJournalAE.



Pioneer Presents: “Harps, Flutes & Fiddles”

What: Concert featuring Cantefable, the Faulkner Family Band and Flutecakes, a flute quartet. The Faulkners will present folk music with a mix of fiddle tunes, focusing on Irish tunes from the traditional fiddle repertoire, with perhaps a tune or two from Scotland or Appalachia.

When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11

Where: Pioneer United Methodist Church, 1338 Lincoln Way, Auburn

Cost: $20 suggested donation to benefit historic building restoration. An anonymous sponsor will match all donations.

Info: (530) 885-4196,




When: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 18

Where: Music & More Theatre, 11596 D Ave., Auburn

Cost: $12 general admission online or at the door

Info: (530) 305-0938,