Eyes wide with amazement, necks craning forward for a better look, students at Deer Park Elementary last week enjoyed the music of world-renowned musician Jamey Turner and his glass harp.
Turner, who describes the sounds he creates as akin to angels singing, has even entertained children at the White House, so students and teachers alike were thrilled to have him at Deer Park.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the children to see that music is a science," said music teacher Loretta Schmitt. "I don't think many people know that it's really about the vibrations. And this way, they get to see and experience it for themselves, and not just hear someone talk about it."
The PTA's Cultural Arts Committee sponsored the event. On Wednesday, Oct. 30, Turner performed during large assemblies, but the next two days, he held small-group workshops during music classes so the children could see him close-up and even play the glass harp, themselves.
He arranges dozens of brandy snifters on a table. Each is filled with a particular amount of distilled water to determine the pitch in each glass. Then he moistens his fingers and rubs them — sometimes lightning-fast — around the rims to create music. The effect is magical — and mesmerizing.
On Thursday, Oct. 31, two fourth-grade classes watched in fascination as Turner coaxed melodies from the otherwise ordinary-looking collection of glasses making up his harp. He played a Bach selection and a Scottish-bagpipe piece, with the glasses mimicking the drone of the bagpipes.
Turner also let the children feel the vibrations around the middle of the glasses and around their rims as his flying fingers made the sounds ring out. At other times, children seated on the floor clapped short bamboo sticks together to play along with his songs, while children standing hit longer bamboo sticks on the floor to make a different sound and help keep time to the music.
In addition, Turner belted out the jazz tune, "Take Five," on the Contra Bass clarinet before playing a soulful rendition of "Summertime" on, of all things, a saw. To demonstrate sound waves and vibrations, he covered the saw's surface with sand particles and then rubbed a bow across the saw's edge, stroking as if it were a violin, while the sand particles leaped into the air. Explained Turner: "We're helping to make invisible things visible."
He demonstrated what a "sound column" is by blowing a tune on a half-filled bottle of Perrier, and he even played musical notes on a cake pan. Delighted, Schmitt was pleased that he showed how many different things could be used to create sound.
"It was cool," said fourth-grader Kelsey Quinn, 9. "I never knew that you could play a glass like that." Michelle Cho, 9, who plays piano, said Turner's glass harp "sounded nice. When he came around, you could feel the vibrations."
Classmate Evan Smallwood, 9, who likes pop music and plays violin, said he liked the sounds Turner made. So did Brandon Dawson, 9, who likes rock music and enjoyed "playing the bamboo sticks." Zach Gains, 9, said Turner's performance was "great," but his favorite part was when he got to "make the sound with the glasses and feel the vibrations" for himself."
Kathleen Monaghan, 10, said she liked it best "when we all played the bamboo sticks together." As for Fahib Keita, a fan of both rock and rap music, he "liked it when [Turner] played that big clarinet. I liked the sound." Jenna Iannucci, 9, said her favorite part was "the big bamboo sticks because, when they hit the ground, they made a big 'boom' sound."
Sara Flouhouse, 9, was surprised "when [Turner] did the thing with the glass and it vibrated," as was Andrew Bentley, 10. "I've always thought glasses were for drinking," he said. "I didn't know you could actually make music with them."
Music teacher Marianne Tagge said Turner showed "how you can create sound and make music with everyday objects. It was a wonderful experience — the kids were fascinated. He integrated music and science together, and the kids were interested and enthusiastic about the program."
She was also pleased with the caliber of questions the children asked Turner. They asked how many glasses he's broken in the 30 years he's been playing the glass harp (50) and how he tunes that instrument. He said he tunes two glasses electronically and then, because he has relative pitch, he's able to hear the vibrations of the other glasses to get them perfectly in tune.
Tagge said there's no other instrument in the world like Turner's glass harp, and she was impressed with what she learned about it and its musician. "He doesn't use expensive crystal because the glasses' edges are too sharp — he prefers smoother edges so he's able to play faster," she said. "He even has to eat special foods because of the body chemistry and the way it reacts with the glass."