Brien Engel is part of an exciting new community helping to revive and promote the
enchanting art of glass music. His glass harp is comprised of goblets and snifters
of various sizes, which he plays by carefully rubbing their rims with moistened fingers.
He taught himself to play his first set in 1993, built on a summer trip to Olympia,
Wa. His current instrument features 50 glasses, and is one of the largest in the
While the glasses are his main musical focus, Brien has studied guitar for most of
his life, and in recent years has discovered a love of mbira music of Zimbabwe. He
has also composed original musical scores for puppet shows, live theatre, and film
How did he get into the glass music? Awhile back, he was a theatrical sound designer
in the Atlanta theatre scene, often building instruments and sound effects for live
use in productions. In one instance, he made small wine glass sets for actors to
play. This prompted more refined and expanded versions.
Another noteworthy inspiration was his use of digital samples of wine glasses for
the sound of Charlotte the Spider, spinning her web in Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry
Arts’ production of Charlotte’s Web. As successful as it was, it served as a beckoning
back to the tactile world of performance -- why sample when you can actually skate
on the rims of real glasses with your fingertips?
Whether played with simple melodies or complex and ethereal harmonies, glass music
has an unmistakable sound. Brien's extensive repertoire includes his own originals,
popular songs, Jazz standards, and classical music, featuring historical compositions
written for the glass armonica.