MARISA FERNANDEZ / SENIOR WRITER
Ohio University alumnus Jake Schlaerth took his seat in a recording studio at the Mason Gross School of the Arts. He carefully removed his rare instrument from its case ready to play multiple pieces for the latest X-Men movie Logan.
In the recording, there were pairs of woodwinds and swooning string instruments by the masses. But Schlaerth and his instrument were about to record alone for this collaboration.
Schlaerth, a 2015 OU graduate in percussion, performance and music composition, is a part of a two-year fellowship at Rutgers University that allowed him to study an instrument only a handful of people in the nation know how to play — the glass armonica.
“The glass armonica doesn’t sit in a family of instruments,” he said. “It doesn’t really belong.”
The instrument, made out of glass, was invented by Benjamin Franklin and is considered to be the first instrument that was invented by an American. To achieve the haunting and illuminating sound that Schlaerth describes, he applies friction with wet fingertips on a rotating spindle of 42 glass bowls layered in each other. The bowls vary in size to justify pitch.
The Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers is the only program in the United States that has a fellowship for the glass armonica. Schlaerth was accepted into the program without having played the instrument before and plays on the armonica owned by the university.
When he was hired on for the movie in January, he was not able to transport the 4-foot instrument safely to the recording studio in Los Angeles. So, he ended up using a recording studio at Rutgers University for five to six hours and communicated with the composer through a series of Skype sessions.
He is finishing up his final year in the program and has logged 40 hours of practice time with his instructor Dean Shostak in addition to more than 100 hours of individual practice. After graduation, he plans to move to Columbus in June to meet up with some of his old OU contacts and delve into the thriving arts scene there.
He wants to create a glass instrument of his own, which sounds difficult, but to Schlaerth it’s an old hobby. He’s an inventor of sorts — throughout his college career, he’s been making and creating instruments with unconventional sounds. By applying for the fellowship, to acquire his Master of Science, he understood the challenges ahead of him in learning how to play one of Benjamin Franklin’s 18th century inventions.
The Logan gig was for sure, a bonus opportunity that he never expected in his career.
Composer of the latest X-Men movie Marco Beltrami was in search of a glass armonica player, and the university caught wind of it. The movie is critically acclaimed for its brute emotion and like in any movie, the score is a driving factor in mood. Beltrami is known for other eerie-sounding and action-packed films such as The Wolverine, the Scream saga, Terminator 3 and The Giver to name a few.
When Schlaerth heard of the gig, he didn’t know any of Beltrami’s contributions to film, let alone that he’d eventually be a part of a successful movie, one that grossed $237.8 million worldwide.
Schlaerth went to the film’s opening night and was excited to see his name credited separately from the orchestra as glass armonica soloist.
“It was the solo instrument in a lot of pivotal scenes,” he said. “I never thought my first recording would be the No. 1 movie.”
Photos provided via Lisa Intrabartola
Developed by: Seth Archer / Digital Managing Editor