Ask the pupils if they have heard of a glass harp or glass harmonica.
- A glass harp is a collection of glasses filled with different amounts of water, and each gives a different pitch. In the hands of an expert it is extraordinary: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKRj-T4l-e8
- A glass harmonica takes the idea a step further. It is an instrument made of different-sized rotating glasses that is played with wet hands: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEKlRUvk9zc
The glass harmonica was invented by the extraordinary Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Franklin was one of America’s Founding Fathers, a politician, diplomat, scientist (famously flying a kite in a thunderstorm), inventor, writer and musician.
Franklin saw the glass harp being played and set out to invent a ‘more convenient’ instrument. He called it the ‘Glass Armonica’ after the Italian word for harmony – armonia. Both Mozart and Beethoven wrote pieces for the glass harmonica.
As live music moved into large concert halls, instruments became larger to amplify their sound – amplifiers had not been invented. Unfortunately the glass harmonica could not feasibly be made any bigger, so it became impossible to hear in a public performance, and so dropped into obscurity. Now of course, anything can be amplified, but there are very few glass harmonicas in existence. Some film soundtracks, such as ‘Gravity’ make extensive use of the glass harmonica for its eerie, ethereal sound.
Create your own class glass orchestra!
- Collect glass bottles, fill them with different amounts of water and arrange them from high pitched to low-pitched.
- Ask the class to create a familiar tune, or compose their own!