When Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiered in 2022, it hit that sweet spot of the franchise blending the familiar with something refreshingly new. Following the space adventures of the USS Enterprise with a crew of many familiar names along with the episodic nature recreated the magic of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS). The charming new cast and exploring an entirely different era allowed the series to pave its own way.
As Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 begins on Paramount+, the Enterprise is in a state of transition. The loss of several key officers has dampened morale and the repercussions of their exploits has begun to take a toll on some of the crew. Science officer Spock isn't immune to the drama and needs an outlet. At the urging of Dr. M'Benga, the Vulcan turns to a familiar instrument from his home planet: the Vulcan lute.
This isn't the first time we've seen Spock play this very instrument. Back in TOS, he would occasionally take part in jam sessions to entertain his crewmates or practice in his quarters as a hobby. What we witnessed in the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 premiere is the origin story of Spock's inner rockstar. However, the Vulcan lute would have a greater significance to Spock than a nifty talent to show at social gatherings.
Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 episode 1, 'The Broken Circle'.
Compounding to Spock's troubles is a distress call from Lt. Noonien-Singh, the ship's former chief of security. He goes against direct orders to rescue his colleague in disputed territory and risks renewing the war with the Klingons. Just another high stakes day while serving on the Enterprise.
What is the Vulcan lute?
Vulcans aren't one of the most lively alien races in the Star Trek Universe. They are very stoic and live based on logic and reason. Most learn to control their emotions because their feelings are more intense than what humans can experience and can lead to paranoia and homicidal range in some.
Despite their way of life, the people have a rich culture. This can be seen through the Vulcan lute. Also known as the Vulcan harp, lyre, or lyrette, it is a 12-string instrument that has a soothing and melodious sound. Many Vulcans take up the instrument because of its mathematical properties rather than for the artistry. Yet that didn't stop Spock from being the center of attention when he performed.
Who else plays the Vulcan Lute?
On TOS, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) would sometimes sing along while her crewmate, Spock, played on the Vulcan lute. But she was also proficient on the instrument herself. In the episode 'The Conscience of the King,' Lt. Kevin Riley asks Uhura to serenade him to pass the time while he is isolated in engineering to prevent an assassination attempt. She obliges by singing 'Beyond Antares' over the comm system using the Vulcan Lute. Uhura is the only non-Vulcan to play the instrument on-screen throughout the history of Star Trek. Nichols received formal voice training when she was younger so it's her actual vocals in the performance, but she did fake the instrumental.
Decades afterwards, we learn that another Vulcan is a musician as well. On Star Trek: Voyager, the chief of security, Tuvok, also could play on the lute strings. While caring for aging Drayans, who resemble children, Tuvok shares that he used to play music for his kids to help them fall asleep. His youngest enjoyed listening to 'Falor's Journey,' a Vulcan folk song of enlightenment that was composed of 348 verses. Though he didn't have his trusty instrument, he did sing one verse acapella while the Drayans drifted off.
Spock's prowess on the Vulcan lute
The first time we see Spock's talent is during the first season of TOS in the episode 'Charlie X.' He and Uhura break out into an impromptu concert in the break room entertaining their crewmates. The song has a more classical feel. Everyone seems to be having a good time until the mysterious Charlie Evans uses his powers to silence them.
During Season 3 of TOS in the episode 'The Way to Eden,' a group of primitivist space hippies find their way onboard the Enterprise. They invite Spock to a jam session in front of the crew. The Vulcan shows his versatility on the instrument by adjusting his style to match the psychedelic rock sounds of the guests. Once again, Spock is a show stealer but in this case that was the plan. The space hippies use the performance as a distraction so they can free their leader and hijack the starship.
Spock's musical prowess isn't just for show. It has practical purpose as well. In the episode 'The Paradise Syndrome' of Season 3, he uses the Vulcan lute to decipher symbols on an alien obelisk when he realizes they represent musical notes rather than symbols. Spock unlocks the message and helps save the planet of Amerind from a catastrophic asteroid collision.
The Vulcan lute and Spock's mental health
In the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 penultimate episode, 'All Those Who Wander,' the crew of the Enterprise are dealing with the highly elusive and dangerous Gorn. The loss of colleagues causes Spock to go into an uncontrollable rage while combatting the threat. Little did he know this would have significant effects down the line.
In the present of the series, Spock is surprised to learn he is dealing with stress. He has added pressure because his is the commanding officer onboard, but the main cause traces back to the Gorn incident. M'Benga explains that Vulcans have natural suppressive cognitive blocks. When Spock unleashed his anger, he inadvertently removed those blocks allowing his emotions to flow more freely.
As a treatment, the doctor suggests he learn to live with feelings like normal people do. In addition, he hands him the Vulcan lute as an outlet. Playing has nearly an instantaneous relaxing effect as Spock's blood pressure and heart rate significantly reduce.
Later on in his life, Spock would turn to the instrument during times of stress. In the Season 2 premiere of TOS, 'Time Amok,' he uses the Vulcan lute while suffering the overwhelming hormonal imbalance known as pon farr. Although in this case, it didn't have the same calming effect.
On the new season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it looks like Spock will be using his Vulcan lute much more considering his growing connection towards Nurse Chapel. Seeing how much his vitals skyrocketed when she entered the room foreshadows things to come.