Jamey Turner: An Orchestra in a Suitcase
By Bob Tagert
An Orchestra in a Suitcase
If you are ever walking along King Street and Union Street you might hear beautiful music in the air. If you follow this unique sound it will bring you to Jamey Turner as he plays his “Glass Harp” in front of Vola’s High Tide Lounge. You will be amazed at the music that is created by rubbing the rim of a glass with slightly wetted fingertips. We have all, at one time or another, rubbed a wine glass while sitting at a table, but Jamey plays a table full of glasses, each revealing its own note.
Jamey grew up in Montana and Colorado where he learned to play the clarinet and played it professionally in military bands. He is also accomplished on the piano, musical saw and his own invention: the wrench harp, wrenches of various sizes suspended on a frame and stuck with hammers. He has appeared on the old Johnny Carson Show playing his saw as well as his glass harp.
Over the years Jamey has performed at such recognizable venues as The Kennedy Center, Disney World, National Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Washington National Cathedral, Today Show, Good Morning America, Busch Gardens, Wolf Trap National Park and the opening of Universal Studios in Tampa, Florida and many more.
Jamey attributes a lot of his success to his wife Mary of 44 years. “Mary was all around music and her dad, Dr. Harry Fletcher lived in the Virginia area and had an incredible music collection, so we moved out here to be around him about 30 years ago,” he tells me. Today the 77 year old Jamey Turner and Mary live in nearby Mount Vernon. Although he performs at corporate events, schools and a variety of venues, he particularly likes to perform outside in Old Town Alexandria.
The table that his glasses sit on is 25 years old and is made of juniper wood from Florida. “We discovered that Juniper made for a great sounding board but soon discovered that it was prone to cracking,” he says. “We added Oak strips around the edges to encase the Juniper.” The glasses are secured to the table by thick rubber bands and I was surprised to learn that they will last for a couple of months before being replaced. As it turns out, he had to replace the rubber band for a glass right in the middle of the board while doing this interview.
Although you don’t see the glass harp played in many places, it does have a long history. Jamey told me of an early player, Georg Philipp Harsdorffer (1607-1658) a Baroque-period poet and translator, who tuned his glasses with wine, then passed them out to his friends and had them all play together. “I imagine he had trouble keeping his glasses in tune,” says Jamey. It takes about an hour for Jamey to set his tables up and get his glasses tuned each time he performs. This requires a lot of love and patience. To keep his fingers moist he keeps re-wetting them with distilled water from two bowls at his side. The distilled water creates more friction and makes the playing a little easier.
If you are in Old Town, take a walk down King Street toward the water and you will find Jamey entertaining the crowds. He is a true talent and performer and loves to engage with the audience. We first wrote about him a little after we started the Old Town Crier in 1988 and the man is still in tune. It has been a pleasure to have known him for all these years.