Originally Published: December 15, 2005 11:13 p.m.
PRESCOTT – Dressed in 18th century attire, Lynn Drye gently moved her hands across a glass harmonica, producing serene and relaxing tunes, most of which she and her husband Toby composed.
Considering the history and rarity of the instrument and musicians who play it in public, it was a real treat recently for a small audience at Sharlot Hall Museum to watch Drye perform.
Describing her music as relaxing, Drye said, “It’s slow and the sound is very sweet. It has a lot of overtones. It’s a very complicated sound wave. The tone is not something you can synthesize ... The unpredictable nature of the sound is one reason it’s so relaxing.”
She explained the technique she uses to produce the sounds from the spinning instrument.
“The glasses spin away from me and then I rub the glasses with my hands,” she said. “The friction makes the sound, but the water lets me slide on the glasses. As the glasses are spinning, the volume changes.”
Although she plays all percussion instruments and a piano, Drye is one of the few concert artists in the world today who perform on a glass harmonica, also known as glass armonica, which Benjamin Franklin invented and named in 1761. Glass harmonica was the term that people used in Germany, where the instrument was the most popular and where composers created the most music for it, Drye said.
“It was so popular that most of the royal families in Europe had to study the instrument,” Drye said. “It was quite a fad of the era.”
Drye’s passion for the glass harmonica began during her graduate studies at North Texas State University, where she earned her degree in percussion performance. She said her professor suggested the instrument for her thesis.
“I started working on it and I was just fascinated,” she said. “The problem was I was supposed to build the instrument.”
Because it’s necessary to build each instrument by hand, and the process is fairly expensive, Drye had to take a loan out to get the instrument. The glass harmonica she uses today would cost $20,000 to replace, Drye said.
“The glass material is quartz crystal, so the material is expensive, and every instrument is custom built,” Drye noted. “About 50 of the 18th century instruments are left in museums around the world. Over 200 of the modern glass armonicas have been built.”
Drye participates in about 30 concerts a year, and her performance highlights include, the World Glass Music Festival in Boston, the Inland Empire Symphony Orchestra in San Bernardino, Calif., and the International Glass Art Society Conference in Tucson.
On March 5 at the Yavapai College Performance Hall, tri-city residents will have another opportunity to watch Drye perform a classical piece – a Mozart quintet – on her glass harmonica. Drye said Mozart wrote two pieces for the instrument – a solo piece, “Adagio,” and the quintet, “Adagio and Rondeau.”
Ironically, the Mozarts wanted to buy the instrument but couldn’t afford it.
More information about Drye’s background, performances and the instrument is available on her Web site at www.glassvirtuoso.us or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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