cel3.gif (1757 bytes)               About Glenn Weiser

From Metroland Magazine
Glenn the Wiser

             All-around music educator Glenn Weiser makes history all the time

Sometimes mere words just won't do. Sometimes you need a harmonica. Glenn Weiser is expounding on the practice of playing fiddle tunes on the harmonica, and before I can say "Hohner" he's whipped out a harp and is playing the bouncy traditional tune "Turkey in the Straw." A few heads turn in the dining room at Lulu, the downtown Albany cafe, as Wesier, harmonica tucked underneath his bushy mustache, his beret-topped head bopping up and down, knocks off the tune. What do you do at a cafe when someone in your party just up and plays a harmonica for a good 30 seconds about three feet from your nose? Well, you listen.

A visit with Weiser is always, above all, instructive.

The 43 year old resident of Delmar and proprietor of the Banjo, Guitar, and Harmonica Studio is a music teacher, arranger and author, but more than anything he's a student of history. A clasically trained guitarist in his youth, Weiser has spent most of his musical career exploring whatever has caught his fancy, usually folk music of some kind, often by artists who've long since passed on. In a number of books he's published over the years, Weiser has adapted Celtic tunes originally played on the fiddle for solo guitar and harmonica, and he has also adapted Celtic harp songs for the guitar. He's published an instruction book for blues harmonica, and he's a veteran harmonica columnist for Sing Out!, the noted folk magazine.

"I can absolutely guarantee," Weiser boasts, "that I'm the only musician in the Capital Region ever to go through the Khyber Pass."

Well, I can almost guarantee that Weiser is one of the few local musicians who know what the Khyber Pass is. But in the early 70s, Weiser, on a travel kick after shunning the limits of classical music study, actually negotiated the legendary route through t he mountains that separate Afghanistan and Pakistan, one of his many explorations - albeit a non-musical one - over the years.

Weiser delves into the history behind music not only to preserve it but to entertain students and audience members while educating them. In introducing the tune "Carolan's Receipt" by Celtic harp composer Turlough O'Carolan, whose work Weiser adapted for guitar in a book released last year, Weiser is wont to tell the tale behind the song's composition. Seems O'Carolan wasn't feeling too well, so he went to the doctor, who told him he had to stop drinking. The harpist did - but he felt worse. So he sought a second opinion, and the doctor told him he'd give him a prescription - or "receipt" - for whiskey in exchange for a little impromptu performance. O'Carolan obliged, and "Carolan's Receipt" was born.

Weiser grew up in suburban New Jersey, a place with "no cultural tradition," he notes with a laugh - ironically, in that he's spent most of his life immersing himself in cultural traditions. Weiser began his musical career in a rather precipitous time in cultural history. As a teen, he was active in the anti-war movement of the 60s, and he saw Jimi Hendrix's legendary Woodstock performance. It was at a peace rally that he first saw fingerstyle guitar playing up close, an influence that would later lead him away from strict classical study and into a varitey of folk styles.

He studied with fingerpicking virtuoso Eric Shoenberg and began learning how to play Joplin-style rags on guitar. After moving to Albany in 1976, Weiser encountered some bad luck that, as it turned out, would actually help launch his book career: he got tendinitis and had to stop playing guitar. Weiser was in despair. He turned to harmonica and became so interested in the instrument that he decided to do a book of fiddle music for harmonica.

"You'll see," he says, "that I tend to throw myself into a project when I get in despair."

Other books followed. Though Weiser has mostly worked with other artist' music, he has created what he considers original works because the music had never been adapted for a particular instrument, such as the guitar.

"You have created new music on the guitar," he explains. "You can go out and play music that is yours. If you're going to get anywhere in the music business, you have to have something of your own."

He's also proud of the fact that, though he skirted a conservatory education, he began to operate like a coomposer in books such 1989's The Minstrel Boy, a collection of 85 fiddle tunes for guitar. Although certainly not the first to do it, Weiser took advantage of his classical and folk backgrounds and married elements of the two. Most important, however, as reviews of the book noted, he did it in a way that was accessible to intermediate players.

"Folk music shouldn't be that hard to play," he says. "Otherwise, it's not folk music."

In his own playing, Weiser has always taken the approach that there's pretty much nothing he can't do with a lot of practice. He plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica and tin whistle. Next to an excellent ear and, er, a lot of confidence, Weiser's biggest advantage may be his open mind. By his count, he owns thousands of books and about 1,000 records. He takes all kinds of music in, doesn't like it all but recognizes its validity. In a conversation with Weiser, you're as likely to discuss Ozzy Osbourne as you are Handel.

"I mean, Ozzy's a great singer," he beams, " and Randy Rhoads was a great guitar player."

Weiser is rarely daunted by a musical challenge. He has meticulously transcribed 70 solos by the late legendary bluse harmonica play Little Walter Jacobs, harp-blower for Muddy Waters, sometimes taking an hour to finish just one measure. He hopes to publish the transcriptions some day as a means to preserve what almost certainly had never been written down.

These days, Weiser is still plugging away at a fairly new challenge - singing. Discouraged by the lack of performance opportunities for instumentalists, Weiser began taking voice lessons three years ago - at the age of 40.

"I haven't found anything yet that I can't do," he says. "I'm a full time teacher....If I know how to teach, I should know how to learn, right?"

         -Mike Goudreau, Metroland, February 1996

Email: banjoandguitar100@yahoo.com

Home  |  Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar Books  |  Harmonica Books  |  Music Lessons  | CDs
 Harmonica Main  |  Celtic Main  |  Blues Main  |  Fingerstyle Main  |  Woodstock 69  |  Reviews 
Free Celtic Guitar Arrangements  |  Free Celtic Harmonica Arrangements  |  Online Celtic Tunebook

Writings  | MySpace Page  |  Discographies  |  To Order Books  |  Contact  |  Links  | Translate