Ben Franklin, GigMasters & the Armonica

Posted by Drew Stoga on March 6, 2012

ArmonicaBen Franklin might be best known as one of the founding fathers of the United States and for his adventure flying a kite in the middle of a thunderstorm, but we have a special place in our hearts for the big guy for an entirely different reason.

In 1761 Franklin invented an instrument that came to be known as the Armonica, or glass harmonica. A few years earlier Franklin had seen a concert given on a series of wine glasses filled with water. Franklin’s Armonica, a series of spinning glass bowls, is based on the same principles behind the wine glasses.

To understand the importance of the Armonica to GigMasters’ story, you have to fast forward some 230+ years after its invention, to a meeting between one of our founders and Cecilia Brauer, one of the world’s premier Armonica players and educators.

The year was 1996 and GigMasters looked nothing like it does today. Mike and Kevin were just getting the ball rolling with GigMasters when they met Cecilia. We weren’t yet building performer Profiles, so instead they built and hosted a site within a site to help Cecilia get the word out about this beautiful and unique instrument.

To this day, sixteen years later, Cecilia is still with GigMasters and we are still hosting her site:

Ben Franklin

More About the Armonica

Ben Franklin was a true renaissance man. Not only was he an influential political and philosophical figure but he also came to be known as one of the top inventors, scientists and musicians of his time. He played the violin, harp, guitar and of course, the Armonica.

On her GigMasters’ page, Cecilia explains Franklin’s Armonica, reportedly the favorite of all his inventions:

“Graduated size bowls with holes and corks in the center were put onto a horizontal spindle and rotated by a fly wheel and foot pedal. Moistened fingers rubbed the edges to produce the beautiful sound.

The Armonica was an instant success. Marie Antoinette took lessons on it and Dr. Mesmer, the famous hypnotist, used it to put his patients into a deeper trance. Composers started writing for it. The most famous…Mozart, Beethoven, Donizetti, Richard Strauss and Saint-Saens.

By the mid-1800’s, it suddenly lost its popularity and gradually vanished. Superstitions rand wild...Armonicas were said to drive performers mad and evoke spirits of the dead because of its eerie and haunting sound. It had a rebirth in 1983 through the efforts of the late master glass blower Gerhard Finkenbeiner...”

Cecilia Brauer

More About Cecilia

Cecilia is one of only 15 or so professional Armonica players in the world today. Before taking up the Armonica she studied piano at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She has been an associate member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra since 1972 where she plays the celeste and when on tour, the piano. She first began performing on the Armonica with the Metropolitan Opera in 1992 and recently performed with them on a tour of Japan.

Cecilia has given lectures and demonstrations about Ben Franklin and the Armonica for countless schools, museums, libraries and other organizations including the National Portrait Gallery, the Carnegie Museum and Independence National Historic Park.

Visit Cecilia's website to learn more:

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