Considered the first US-American instrument, the armonica was invented in 1761 by Benjamin Franklin. Not to be confused with the harmonica, an armonica is made of glass bowls nestled together, beehive-style, and played by stroking the edges to produce a high-pitched, ethereal tone. Because of its unusual sound—often described as a cross between a cello and a flute—the instrument was outlawed in Europe at one time.
In the 1970s The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia would allow only one person to repair its 200-year-old armonica: inventor and glass craftsman Dominick Labino, one of the founders of the Studio Glass Movement. In order to familiarize himself with the instrument, Labino built one and taught himself to play it.
Labino’s armonica will be on view the night of the performance in the Little Theater. James had his first encounter with the armonica at the Franklin Institute as a child. He would later have his own replica built and teach himself to play it. Through his performances he has helped set in motion an international resurgence of this nearly extinct instrument.
To learn more about the history of the armonica, visit http://www.fi.edu/learn/sci-tech/armonica.