If you haven't heard Vera Meyer play her glass harmonica yet, you have your chance to make up for this on Tuesday, June 2, at 6:30 PM when she will be at the South End library performing the instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. The BPL is sponsoring the concert, part of its 2015 programming initiative, which focuses on the American Revolutionary War era (1750-1800). According to a Boston University report on a performance by Meyer a few years ago, Franklin’s 1761 harmonica is a tubular glass cone on a spindle. It makes music the way rubbing wet fingers on a wineglass rim does. Meyer’s own instrument was made by the late glassblower Gerhard Finkenbeiner, whose glass harmonicas are still manufactured in Waltham. Mass. It features a series of glass bowls graduated in size to produce music. It was popular among European monarchs, with Marie Antoinette having taken lessons as a child. About 300 compositions, including ones by Mozart and Beethoven, have been originally written for the glass harmonica, according to a newsletter of the New Haven Museum of Colonial History, where Meyer also played in recent years. It became a forgotten art form after German police banned the instrument in the 1830s, when it was thought to cause insanity, nervous disorders, marital disputes and convulsions in dogs and cats.
Meyer discovered glass music in 1983 when she happened upon street musician Jim Turner playing his 70 musical wine glasses on the street in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. She was so captivated by the sound of the instrument that she immediately worked to acquire her own glass instrument. She is co-founder of Glass Music International, an organization that promotes a renaissance of glass music around the world, after 150 years of obscurity for the instrument.