Musician Pleases Crowds by Playing Glasses Filled with Water

26 September, 2018

Jamey Turner often performs to large crowds in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, a short drive from Washington, D.C.

You can find Turner playing an unusual musical instrument, the glass harp, near Alexandria's historic waterfront.

A glass harp is made up of different sized stemmed drinking glasses, each filled with water. Turner makes music by running his fingers over the tops of the glasses. By doing so, each glass makes a different musical sound.

Visitors to Alexandria like what they see and hear. They thank Turner by leaving a dollar or more in his box for donations.

Nicole Schwarss is a visitor from Germany.

"I think it's fantastic. I've never heard something like this before," she said.

Jamey Turner the Glass Harpist
Jamey Turner the Glass Harpist

Jamey Turner is 78 years old. He says he has been playing the glass harp for 50 years. Turner says he became interested at the age of six, when he heard his father playing with a glass of water at the dinner table.

Today Turner puts together his instrument by placing 60 different glasses on a wooden soundboard. He holds the glasses in place with rubber bands, which keeps them from breaking. He then adds different amounts of water to each one to create different musical notes.

Turning says adding or taking away just a little water will change the sound. Adding water to a glass will make a lower sound. The smaller bowls of water produce a higher sound, while the larger ones produce a lower, deeper sound.

Turner says he uses low-priced glass because it sounds better than costly crystal. And he has more control over the sound.

Before buying new glasses, he will test them in stores. He decides if they produce the right sound by rubbing his finger over the top of them.

The glass harp was popular 300 years ago when composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote music for the instrument. There have been about 400 musical compositions written just for the glass harp. But Turner plays all kinds of music, even popular music from China.

Turner says he has performed all over the United States and in Japan.

Few people play the glass harp these days, but Turner says he sees videos of people experimenting with the instrument on YouTube. He hopes the next generation will continue making its music.

I'm Dorothy Gundy.

Deborah Block reported on this story for VOANews. Dorothy Gundy adapted the story and video for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

stemmed – adj. having a stem, the long and thin part: such as the long, thin piece that supports the bowl of a wine glass

soundboard – n. a thin sheet of wood over which the strings of a piano or similar instrument are positioned to increase the sound produced

rubber bands – n. circles of stretchy rubber for holding things together

crystal – n. a special type of glass that is very clear

composer – n. a person who writes music