Monday, January 14, 2008


I've got a few harmonicas. I thought this was the whole collection, until I remembered the one in the car (for emergencies) and the one in my briefcase, and the one in the kitchen that lost its pins. There's a pretty blue echo harp that lives with the props for the puppet show Rumpelstiltskin. There might be a few more lying around the house, too.

These two were my first real harmonicas. Yes, of course I had one as a kid, but I just played as kids do: I blew in and out tunelessly, driving everybody crazy. When I was a freshman in college, I went to the music store and bought a Hohner. I followed the directions enclosed and was playing "When the saints go marching in" by the end of the day. I carried that harmonica with me everywhere--notice how these two are squashed from being in my back pocket, and one is missing its screws. I played as I walked, getting the rhythm from my pace much as I do when I'm working on a story. Once again, I drove everybody crazy, but at least I was playing actual tunes.

I've got a reasonably good ear for music, or what Howard Gardner calls "musical intelligence." Anyway, if I hear something, most likely I can play it, if there aren't accidentals (sharps and flats in unexpected places). Someday I can even deal with those, if I learn to play the chromatic Hohner harmonica my friends Dave and Joanna gave me:

That nifty button on the side makes the sharps and flats. The little one next to it is a Yamaha, given to me by my friend Yuko in Bulgaria.

This is the one I use most often, a fancy pants Lee Oskar. I keep it in my puppet bag for performances. Before this, I played a Huang, which I loved, but the replacement I got doesn't sound as good (the one in my briefcase replaces the one missing its pins).

I play the harmonica sometimes before performances as kids are coming in. We usually play "name that tune," with standards such as The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Old MacDonald, The Chicken Dance, etc. The music focuses the listeners and gives us all something to do if we have to wait for other kids.
This is a cool box o' harmonicas my friends Thom and Sarah Howard sent me out of the blue a few years ago. Seven keys in a velvet-lined case!

And this tiny one with its cool satin box is a mystery: my siblings found this in Dad's desk after he died. Dad couldn't carry a tune in a bucket with the lid on top and he certainly never played an instrument. Why was this there? Was he planning to give it to me someday? I think I'm the only one of us who plays. Hmm.


Deb said...

A photo series of a series of harmonicas! How excellent! I can see that camera is going to come in awfully handy.

And what was Dad doing with that harmonica? He must have had you in mind.

Felicia said...

Wow! Truly groovy collection. I had no idea there was so much to harmonicas. :)

Granny Sue said...

My dad had harmonicas too. Like you, I had many, many different ones as a child. I've always loved them. When Dad died, I somehow ended up with one that has a lever on the side--to change key? I don't know. Dad played them, often and well. He owned many and would play after dinner sometimes.

I wonder why your father had that one in the satin case. I think you're right--he intended to give it to you.

PriscillaHowe said...

Still waiting for Mom to speak up about the little one in the gray satin box.

I also forgot to say that the cat can't stand the sound of the harmonica. He decides it's time to go outside as soon as the first note is played.

PriscillaHowe said...

That's what I get for writing comments on comments when I'm tired--I forgot to say a few more things.

They are pretty groovy! When I was looking for the links in the post, I found myself wondering if I needed a few more...

Granny Sue, is the little lever a button? If you press it a few times while blowing, does it sound like a traffic jam? If so, you've got a chromatic harmonica, so it's like having black and white keys on a piano.