“Ode to Joy” played on wine glasses

One of my friends from elementary school found me via Facebook the other day, and what do you know, he’s the timpanist for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. It’s good to know people who are principal timpanists.

I never excelled at playing orchestral instruments, but I remember being fascinated with their names when I was in elementary school. There are so many good ones, many of them strangely similar in shape and sinew to the instruments they announce: trombone, bassoon, oboe, gong. There’s something very timpanic about the word timpani. What’s the word for that? Orchestronomatopoeia?

Anyway, his Facebook page had this great video of some rim-riffing Beethoven. Be sure and stick around for the harmony in the second half. You reckon that feller could play “Freebird” on them glasses?

The arrangement of all those glasses looks awfully inconvenient. Couldn’t someone build a musical instrument that makes that sound? Yes they could, and that person was Ben Franklin. At one time his glass armonica (also spelled “glass harmonica”) was so popular that Mozart composed for it. Franz “Mesmerism Is Almost My Last Name” Mesmer used the armonica as part of his hypnosis experiments. Then someone started spreading nasty rumors that it caused listeners to go insane*, and the armonica went the way of the theremin. Happily, you can still buy an armonica today, and I was especially pleased to see that the Finkenbeiner Glass Harmonica showroom in nearby Waltham, Mass. is practically in my back yard.

Now here is your musical riddle for the day: why is this woman in 18th century apparel playing a jazz standard on the armonica?

* I don’t think it will actually make you go insane, but I did hear that if you watch this video five times in a row your eyeballs will turn black.

2 thoughts on ““Ode to Joy” played on wine glasses”

  1. I guess you mean as opposed to a nice little classical ditty? Beats me. But Gershwin is a personal favorite, so it sounds good to me.

    I have never seen an armonica, much less seen one played. I did once write a piece once for harp, flute and tuned glasses (only 4 pitches). The timbre of humming glass rims has always appealed me. Hmmm…

  2. My musical riddle was supposed to be that she’s describing Ben Franklin with his own invention by playing Gershwin’s An American in Paris (as played here by a bunch of Americans in Pyongyang). But I was wrong and she’s actually playing Rhapsody in Blue. Too bad.

    Anyway, Franklin did his most important work for our young republic as an ambassador in Paris, during which time he also managed to proselytize his glass armonica. It was the subject of a lot of buzz by the Parisian bloggers at the time. Some time later Mesmer introduced it to Mozart. I love the idea of the dreamy and hypnotic Dr. Mesmer turning on Mozart to the joys of the glass pipes. Just like Dylan and the Beatles.

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