Re: The Rift (was: Conventions )
- Subject: Re: The Rift (was: Conventions )
- From: "Rick Dempster" <rick.dempster@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 05 Dec 2003 13:11:09 +1100
The foregoing comments from Iceman and Scorcher beg the question: what is it about harmonica players that produces the need to "stratify according to the instruments they play or enjoy listening to" as Scorcher writes.
This brings into question the role of the harmonica in music and entertainment.
Most instruments have a clearly defined role in the many musical settings in which they are used. The harmonica's role in almost any genre has been slight.
Harmonica bands (which, however musically excellent, are the very incarnation of 'instrumental stratification') stand to define the instruments most enduring role as a novelty, a role from which Larry Adler (firstly and most notably) struggled to break free.
Outside the folk setting for which it was designed, and in the world of professional, commercial entertainment, the harmonica was first presented through vaudeville as the instrument of the street urchin, and this childish, clownish image endured for decades.
Alternately it was used in stage and screen as the instrument of the 'hayseed', and found a place too, in film, to express either 'deep south cottonfields' or 'sleaze'; in this last almost knocking the saxaphone from the post in all but the most urban scenes.
But in the world of publicly performed music, the only place where the harmonica has a defined role is in the post- WWII Chicago blues band, and even then, in a strictly instrumental sense, in the style of Chicago blues band defined by Muddy Waters.
Reflecting its 'lost boy' ('Lost John'?) vaudeville image, the harmonica, in a band setting, remains the individualists instrument, the singers instrument.
Meanwhile, all of those who see it as a primary instrument for their musical expression are struggling to find 'a place in the choir'.
In the world of classical music, similar 'instrumental ghettos' exist. The viola players, the basoon players, french horns &c. &c., I understand, tend to have a somewhat obsessive/nuerotic relationship with their instruments; but at least they have their defined roles in the orchestra and its various ensembles.
The same goes for banjo players (both 5 and 4 string groups and their lesser subgroups - other than on their respective hometurfs of bluegrass/old timey and Jazz) steel guitar players (god help me!)outside of Hawaiian and country; gum-leaf players and whistlers (there' a website apiece, at least, for these last two, be sure) and so on.
There is plenty of common ground for both chromatic and diatonic players; in the physical characteristics and traditions of the instruments, and best of all, in the music itself.
I think that harp-l is useful for the beginner, useful for swapping technical information about the instrument itself and sound support, useful for finding out what players are up to (great gig list, except I'd have to travel about 15,000 miles to see any of them) but I look for ( and most times miss) broader musical discussion, even when still harp-related.
I am lucky to inhabit a small musical community where players of all instruments work across a number of genres, from the less technically sophisticated 'roots' styles of blues, rock'n'roll and country to jazz, in its variety of forms (some not too far from the folk root either)
Even though the greater proportion of players tend to exclusively inhabit their chosen musical style, the harmonica will benefit most by players being inquisitive, and looking for examples of imaginative use of the instrument, including influences brought from other instruments that the harmonica can occassionally subordinate (ie the organ, the accordion, the trumpet the fiddle, the clarinet)
Harmonica, both chromatic and diatonic, will always sound like harmonica, and the suggestion of the cry of a child or the call of a lone bird (as perceptively remarked by Richard Hunter, among others) will always be a part of what defines its role.
The 'common touch' of the harp, owing to its relative cheapness and accessability, will always feed the well-spring of its popularity, and while custom-harps and innovations both in technique and technology, may make life exciting for those of us who fancy we are at the 'cutting edge', it would be a mistake to try too hard to shake both the traditions (and ghosts) of the instrument.
Without them, how can something like the XB40 (not that I've yet seen, let alone played one) succeed; and succeed, commercially, it must if it is going to become a useful, accessable (available at the drop of a hat -or the crack of a reed- at the local store/website)
Well, that's my $US00.10c worth (that's $00.136195c in Aussie currency) Sorry if it went on a bit...........!
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