Kaid Benfield Archive


Animating the street with astonishing music

Kaid Benfield

Posted October 10, 2011 at 2:06PM

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  Jamey Turner plays the glass harp in Alexandria (by: runneralan2004, creative commons license)

This past Friday evening, I had a delightful encounter, the kind that is likely to occur only in a great urban neighborhood:  I came across some extraordinary street music, in which I even participated briefly.

We had been having dinner, our table by the sidewalk in one of our area’s (and the country’s) best historic districts, Alexandria, Virginia’s Old Town.  On a perfect fall evening, the thing to do after was to walk around, enjoying an ice cream cone and the lively-but-still-not-crowded streets.  And that’s when we found Jamey Turner.

Turner, it turns out, is a virtuoso musician.  He has played both classical and popular music in such hallowed venues as Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, the White House, and Washington National Cathedral.  He has appeared at JazzFest in New Orleans and the Philadelphia Folk Festival.  He has been on the Today Show, the Tonight Show, Good Morning America, and the BBC.  And, on the evening we met, he was on a corner of in Old Town.

Jamey Turner plays the glass harp in Alexandria (by: runneralan2004, creative commons license)I love street music of just about any kind.  But what really sets Turner apart from others is his complete mastery of an unusual instrument with a haunting sound:  the glass harp, consisting of an array of brandy snifters and wine glasses carefully arranged and tuned with precise amounts of water.  Turner’s glass harp spans four octaves, which he plays by rubbing the rims, as many as four at a time with exquisite skill and timing.  A man of obvious intellect, he explains the instrument and relates his world travels in between numbers.

William Jay elaborates:

“Turner became fascinated with the glass harp at age five when a friend gave him a recording by Bruno Hoffmann, a German player of the glass harp. Turner played in group settings before striking out as a soloist in 1978. A family health problem in 1987 took him from Colorado to Northern Virginia. He’s been a fixture at his little wooden table at the corner of King and Union, or by the marina, ever since.

“Turner sells his CDs at his website, and can be seen on YouTube. But it’s best to find the time to stop and hear him play. He’s someone who has found his passion, and loves to entertain.”

On Friday, he played Mozart, Beethoven, and the theme from Star Wars while 25 or so of us watched and listened.   I enjoyed talking to him in between songs, and he invited me to participate by “playing” middle C on one of the large snifters, holding down the drone part on a bagpipes tune while he played everything else.  He coached me for a minute or two until I got my very limited part down well enough.  (I used to play music part-time back in the day; not sure whether that helped or hurt.)  It was great fun.

Enjoy the wonderful introduction below (it’s worth putting up with the annoying ad at the beginning).  Would this magic have happened in suburban sprawl?  Not a chance. 


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