"Fiddler's Liar" by Bella Bartok, November 2012
Disclaimer: All characters presented here are product of fiction. Any resemblances to real characters are of a pure coincidence. No intention was made to insult anyone for any reason.
AN: This story is an act of fiction. No one should attempt to act in the same manner as described.
Summary: He played several musical instruments, including the violin, harp, and guitar. His great interest in music lead him to build his own glass armonica. This simple musical instrument was played by touching the edge of the spinning glass with dampened fingers.
After their audition, Benjamin Frankenstein, Barry Adler, Nevis Singarten and Kelly Muller went to walk through a beautiful park with lush trees and exotic birds.
"The word 'harmonica' … and related words such as 'harmonika', 'armonica', 'harmonicon', 'garmonika', and so on …", Kelly smiled to Benjamin politely, "… has in fact been applied to several different things." Some white, puffy clouds were leisurely flowing over the pale blue sky above. "They have been used in the titles of several tune books as a matter of fact … as well as collections of writings about music."
"Of course." Barry offered.
"Of course." Kelly nodded.
"I believe that there was also a respected British music journal from the 1800s titled 'The Harmonicon'?" Benjamin extended.
After they sat on two benches, small birds landing in their proximity, waiting for some crumbs, squirrels examined them from the trees above and various other insects were in the air as well.
"So … how can a wet Venetian glass sound so good?"
"You probably already know that rubbing your wet finger around the rim of any glass can make a sound …", Kelly started to explain it to Barry, "… a very gentle musical note that is unlike the sound of just about any other common musical instrument you can imagine."
"Well I can sure imagine quite a lot!" He guffawed, sniggering at the others. "I have a special interest in this question because I often play music on glasses as a matter of fact."
"Really?" Benjamin shoved him lightly. "How come you never told me?"
Barry snorted and then chuckled some more.
"I remember my uncle has assembled a set of more than twenty wineglasses into a musical instrument once …", Kelly inhale fresh air, enjoying morning sunshine that came in rays through the canopy above, "… he called it a 'glass harmonica' … that has a musical range of two octaves, I believe … just like on our piano keyboard." They listened to some hunter's horns and trumpets in the distance. "In fact …", she sighed, examining her fingernails, "… the great composer Mozart actually wrote music for the glass harmonica."
There were some fruit vendors with set up carts at the edge of the park.
"Well …?" Barry grinned exuisitively.
"The answer to your question involves several important science principles, so I'll try to break it down into … parts." Kelly smiled.
They noticed a boy and his sister, rolling some circles with sticks, running on the gravel.
"So … how does a glass make a sound?"
"Yes." Barry nodded as if impatient and then produced a large grin.
"When a glass makes sound, it is vibrating much like a bell with its rim and sides moving in and out very quickly … in fact, I believe it is several hundred times each second." There was a red-brown terrier jumping up into the air, catching insects while his owner licked an ice-cream.
"This would be the vibration's 'frequency' …"
"… in cycles per second?"
"Yes. That's right Benji. Just as a swing likes to swing back and forth at its own special frequency, vibrating objects like bells and glasses have their own special 'natural frequencies' at which they like to vibrate. When you tap the rim of a glass gently with a spoon, the glass vibrates at its special natural frequency and sings out a note of the corresponding musical pitch." She cleared her throat as some pollen got into her throat. "Whether the vibration frequency and note pitch are high or low depends on the glass's size and shape …"
"You mean … how tall it is, how fat it is …", Barry beamed at Benjamin, "… how thick its walls are, of what kind of material it is made?"
"Yes. But … although good crystal glasses may work best, less expensive glasses can also work well." Kelly tittered at Benjamin.
"So then …", Barry pushed on as some birds landed on the fountain edge, drinking water, "… How are different parts of the glass moving when it vibrates?"
"Well …", Kelly gleamed at Nevis, "… The rim and sides of the glass vibrate together in the special pattern actually. The rim's shape changes repeatedly and rapidly, several hundred cycles each second, between the two elliptical or egg shapes shown. The amount of vibration of an actual glass gives you some idea of what's happening to the glass. As the sides of the glass vibrate, they push air back and forth creating sound vibrations in the air that travel to your ears."
Barry was measuring Kelly in some special way, becoming serious.
"How about my fingers though?"
"As your finger moves along the rim, it is alternately slipping and sticking to the rim, just like a violin bow slips and sticks as it moves across a violin string." Nevis nodded, realizing the underlining principle. "This is actually called 'slip-stick' motion."
"Is this perhaps the reason for squeaking of door hinges or the squealing of chalk being dragged across a blackboard?"
"Precisely!" Benjamin felt proud for being so "open-minded". "In fact … you can demonstrate slip-stick motion by dragging your fingers across the surface of an inflated balloon as well!" They watched a boy with a red, helium-filled balloon passing by while holding his mother's hand. "This makes a rather funny sound as the balloon vibrates, though".
After some gipsy with a dancing bear attracted almost all of the park strollers, Kelly continued.
"But … there the vibration's pattern and frequency depend mostly on how you drag your fingers across the balloon … how fast they move and how hard you press. When you rub your finger along the rim of a glass, … you produce the vibration with its own special natural frequency for that glass. By changing the speed or pressure you use with your finger, you can make the sound louder or softer and make the glass vibrate and sing more easily or not…", sounds of gipsy zurlas and tapans filling the air, "… but it doesn't change the vibration frequency. Wetting your finger prepares its surface and the rim of glass to make the slip-stick motion easier to produce, just like rubbing rosin on a violin bow prepares the bow and string to slip and stick and make their sounds more easily."
"That's right!" Nevis laughed in some shy manner, feeling better.
They listened to the gipsy music for a while.
"I believe that organologists …"
"What?" Barry looked at Benjamin in wonder.
"Those who study musical instruments ..", Kelly nodded to Barry and he nodded in apprehension.
"They have long used the words harmonica or harmonicon as generic terms for instruments which are basically a row of tuned idiophones…", he paused, indicating the previous topic, "… or other sound sources that are capable of producing harmonies …"
"You mean that are able to sound more than one note at a time?" Barry offered and Kelly nodded.
"That's right. Examples would be the rock harmonicons found in some cultures … basically a row of rocks which give different pitches when struck …"
"Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! I like that!" Nevis giggled, placing a hand over her mouth.
"Then … the meteorologic harmonica or armonica meteorologicale …"
"What on Earth would that be? …" Barry giggled, glancing at Nevis casually.
"It is a giant aeolian harp built by … oh, shoot …" Kelly's brain stopped as one tall, pretty and gaunt young man walked by, walking his dog.
"Abbate Gattoni in the late 18th century?" Nevis offered shyly.
"Yes! That's right!" Kelly checked the man out again in secret. "He used it to forecast the weather …" She licked her lips, feeling tight in her stomach. "The chemical harmonica or harmonica thermique …"
"Ha, ha, ha, ha! Where do you dig all that?" Barry chuckled, noticing squirrels burying something into the ground.
"It is the flame organ, used fire to generate musical tones …"
"Ha, ha … sure'd like to play on that!" Benjamin glanced at Kelly's breasts in secret.
"Then … various panpipe-like instruments, … the aeol-harmonica and organo-harmonica …"
"… pre-cursors of the harmonium …", Nevis nodded, smiling like some blind girl.
"And of course our 'glass harmonica' … or armonica … like I said …", there was a set of pranks discharging and some kids ran away, laughing, "... it is a row of tuned glasses, or glass disks rather … then …", Kelly sighed, remembering her next audition practice, "… the bell harmonica or bellarmonic …"
"And … that would be? …" Barry wished to sit next to Kelly but it didn't seem appropriate for boys to sit with girls on the same bench in public.
"Well … it is similar to the glass harmonica but using a row of tuned metal bowls, rather …" Barry nodded, noticing an air balloon with some people waving from it above, "… the panharmonicon …"
"Oh, my God!" Nevis placed hands over her mouth as if something happened. "That's right!" Others looked at her with a surprised smile. She stared at the boys. "It is a mechanical instrument invented by Johann Nepomuk Mältzel, I think …", she checked with Kelly and Kelly nodded, "… and … the nail harmonica, stiftharmonika or … nagelharmonika … a row of metal tines mounted on a wooden soundboard that are sounded with a violin bow, also known as the nail fiddle, or nail violin …"
"So how come you're using that string violin then?" Barry teased her, nodding to her violin suitcase.
They chuckled a bit, newspaperman riding on a bicycle and offering journals.
"I know that a later development of the nail harmonica involved sympathetic strings added to the soundboard, with this instrument being called … the violono-harmonika …", Kelly prolonged.
Benjamin nodded to Kelly's breasts in secret at Barry as the girls examined some clown, attracting plenty of children around.
"Any other perhaps? …" Benjamin giggled in some childish manner.
"Yes. There is the Pandean harmonica …" Kelly noticed Barry's stupefied face. "It is an old term for the panpipes …"
"Ah!" Barry's eyes flickered for a moment as he met with Kelly's.
"Then … there's the melkharmonica … basically it is a friction idiophone played by stroking a set wood or metal bars with a rosined glove … and, of course …" Kelly smiled to Nevis, "… the more common marimbas, … glockenspiels, and so on." Kelly sighed, playing with her feet.
"But …" Benjamin looked at Barry. "What about the mouth harmonica then?"
"Oh, sure!" Kelly giggled, examining the boys. "This usage was applied to the very first European free reed instruments, which were essentially rows of pitch pipes strung together, eventually turning into your mouth harmonica …"
"Or mundharmonika …" Nevis nodded, adding, making Kelly grin.
"And, of course …", she sighed, smiling at Nevis, "… the hand harmonica, or handharmonika".
Finally they rose up and continued toward the other end of the park, some vendors selling sugar canes and other sweets to eager children.
"Did you know that … I just remembered …", Kelly laughed, glancing at Barry and then at Benjamin, "… In many European countries today the term 'harmonika' is often more likely to mean an accordion than a mouth organ."
Some blind man was begging for mercy across the park.