On the heels of rave reviews for Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Benjamin Franklin earlier this month, Corrales’ Mayling Garcia contacted his production company in Walpole, New Hampshire. Didn’t the four-hour, two-part documentary need her playing the musical instrument he invented, the glass armonica? She is among the few musicians anywhere in the world who play the instrument which produces tuned sounds like those made when wet fingers are lightly rubbed on the rim of a fine wine glass.
Garcia, best known as a waitress at Perea’s Restaurant, only learned about the acclaimed bio-pic a few weeks before it aired on KNME-TV April 4 and 5, too late for her offered demonstration to be included. She found out about it from fellow Franklin admirer Corrales Comment Editor Jeff Radford, and at that point she had no idea who Ken Burns was. Still, the indefatigable Garcia quickly researched and contacted Burns’ production company, Florentine Films. She asked to speak to Ken Burns, but her call was intercepted politely.
“While we were talking, the lady on the telephone looked up my website and asked ‘How come we have never heard of this?’ She said she would give Ken Burns my message.
“In the meantime, Laurel Wyckoff at New Mexico PBS had called to book me a gig performing the armonica for teenagers at a “Ben Franklin Day of Science” at the Albuquerque Museum of Natural History on June 17,” Garcia recalled.
When the two spoke again, the Corraleña said she had called Burns’ production company in New Hampshire. She was surprised when Wyckoff told her she already knew about Garcia’s contacting Florentine Films.
Wyckoff is KNME’s education and outreach coordinator. The event for teens at the Natural History Museum starts at 5:30 p.m.
The documentary does show the glass armonica being played by finders rubbing spinning glass discs for about one minute. The musician’s face is not shown, for some reason, but it clearly is not Garcia performing.
The documentary begins by describing Franklin’s early life in Boston, including his apprenticeship at age 12 in his brother’s printing business. He ran away at 17 to Philadelphia where he started his own printing business and launched a series of inventions that made him one of the world’s most celebrated scientists, and then the elder statesman of the American Revolution.
The story of how Mayling Garcia became one of the few people to play the instrument Franklin invented is remarkable in its own right. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXV No.10 July 8, 2006 “Mayling Garcia on ‘America’s Got Talent.’”)
Garcia’s fascination with the strange musical instrument dates back nearly three decades when she saw a street performer playing the glass armonica in Massachusetts. In the early 1990s, she decided that was what would make her famous.
She tracked down the woman she had seen playing, who put her in touch with a German glass blower who was possibly the only person in the world making the instrument. Over the next few years, he taught her how to play it by trans-Atlantic telephone calls, and finally with a week of instruction at his studio.
Since then, she has rarely if ever missed an opportunity to promote her artistry and her instrument.
Among her gigs were appearances on the hugely popular Spanish language TV show Sabado Gigante. Her irrepressible enthusiasm is further seen in a You Tube post for the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. The video is also posted at her website, and found via Google at welcome.to/mayling.
Along the way, Garcia has researched the history of the strange instrument, which folks in Franklin’s day were convinced could drive a person crazy.
From her research, she’s convinced the early glass armonicas were more hazardous. She theorizes that lead additives used in glassware in those days may have accidentally poisoned the people who played the instrument.
She is currently searching for a documentary producer to create a film about the mysterious disappearance of the man who taught her to play.