Listen to Ben Franklin’s glass harmonica in Boston tonight

Musician Vera Meyer plays a modern model of Franklin’s 1761 invention.

Vera Meyer has played her glass harmonica with the Boston-area Minute Men.
Vera Meyer has played her glass harmonica with the Boston-area Minute Men. –Courtesy of Vera Meyer

Benjamin Franklin once passed a band playing more than 50 wine glasses on the street and was instantly mesmerized by the sound, glass musician Vera Meyer said. So he built his own instrument with the help of a team of glassblowers.

It was the invention Franklin was most proud of during his lifetime, Meyer said.

We’ve all tried the trick of rubbing a wet finger on the edge of a wine glass, hoping to elicit an ethereal tone, but Franklin perfected it. His instrument consisted of multiple glass bowls in various sizes that spin around an axis. When you touch your wet finger to the glass, you hear an eery but beautiful tone.

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Meyer will be bringing back Franklin’s musical legacy tonight at the South End branch of the Boston Public Library.

Meyer said she is one of 20 people in the world who plays the glass harmonica, invented by Franklin in 1761. Meyer usually plays at the Paul Revere house or along the Freedom Trail, but she is playing in three BPL locations for the library’s Revolutionary Boston program series.

“It tells the story of the founding of America,’’ said Beth Prindle, manager of exhibitions at the BPL, of the program. This year is the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act, and that event is being used as a gateway to looking at Colonial life.

Meyer’s instrument isn’t a Ben Franklin original, though. She had her glass harmonica built by a local “scientific master glassblower’’ after she came upon a man playing wine glasses in Harvard Square.

“I just became transfixed by the sound of glass music,’’ she said.

Since starting, Meyer says she has learned every country’s national anthem. Tonight, she’ll play traditional colonial music and take modern requests. The most frequently requested songs are “Let it Go’’ from the Disney movie Frozen, and the Jurassic Park theme song.

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“It combines history with science with music, and it’s very simple and very ingenious. I like that combination,’’ Meyer said. “Everybody who hears it loves it.’’

Watch a sample of Meyer playing here:

Correction: An initial version of this story said Benjamin Franklin invented the glass harmonica in 1861.

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