One of the “smarter for being a musician” people on yesterday’s info-graphic was Benjamin Franklin – Founding Father of the US and a Renaissance man – author, scientist, inventor, diplomat, and the list goes on. His favourite invention was the glass harmonica – an ethereal-sounding instrument that is based on the sounds of rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass.
This is a facepalm moment for me. I’d heard of it. I played a piece for my students in Performance Classes a couple of weeks ago that included it (“Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals). I even alerted them to the bell-like sounds among the pianos and strings. The scoring includes the glass harmonica, although as this is on the Endangered Musical Instrument list, pieces like “Aquarium” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from the Nutcracker are often played on the celesta.
I had no idea what the instrument looked like or how it worked (didn’t occur to me to wonder). I’m thrilled that this has been remedied, with thanks to Joe who sent me this video about Franklin’s glass harmonica. It’s a 5-minute segment from the History Channel and explains it all. And, of course, the more I’m looking for information about it, the more fascinating it’s becoming. Seems there was an issue with lead poisoning in the early years…
More videos featuring the glass harmonica can be found on Youtube as well.