Re: 19th Century harmonica players

Winslow  wrote:
>- --- In harp-l-archives@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Pat Missin <pat@xxxx> wrote:
>> Predating all of the players Winslow mentioned is Pete Hampton, an
>> African-American who was a very popular performer on the English
>> vaudeville scene around the turn of the 20th century. He recorded at
>> least one piece featuring harmonica on an Edison cylinder in the
>> 1900s. This track is due to be reissued on CD in the next few months.
>> More details as and when.
>When was Hampton born? 


>Any information on when or how he learned to play?
>An individual can pick up an instrument, and what he or she does with
>it may be completely original and innocent of any existing practices,
>or may reflect what others are doing with the same instrument without
>ever deviating from established conventions. Or it may be some blend of
>the two. Who knows where Hampton falls in this spectrum of
>possibilities? It would be helpful if details of his background were

The only source of information I know regarding Hampton is "Black
People",  by Rainer Lotz. I don't have a copy to hand right now.

>I'm trying to form a picture of common practices as reflected in
>recordings. While we have descriptions of 19th century players, do they
>really tell us much about how they played, with the kind of details
>about style and technique that harmonica players want to know about? I
>have copies of instruction books dating from the 1870s and 1880s:
>The Mouth Harmonica Instruction Book (author unnamed), Oliver Ditson &
>Company, Boston, 1870, 31 pages
>Ryan's True Harmonica Instructor, (author not fully named; this is one
>in a series of "Ryan's 'True' Instruction Books" for a wide variety of
>instruments), The John Church Co., Cincinnati, 1886, 47 pages.

Both Ditson and Ryan specialised in tutors for quite a range of
instruments. In many cases, their various books were essentially the
same set of tunes with a brief chapter focussing on the instrument
they were supposed to be covering. In some cases this lead to tunes
being given that were not playable on the instrument to which the book
was supposed to be devoted, as is the case with a few pieces in the
Ditson tutor.

>Interestingly, Ryan in 1886 describes the Richter tuning we know today
>and depicts a 10-hole Richter-brand mouth organ. The accompanying text
>mentions the "perfection" attained by "such players as J. K. Emmet,
>Prof. Wallach and others." The Ditson book in 1870 describes a rather
>different tuning system: the harmonica has 12 holes, and draw 2 (it's a
>C-harp) is tuned to F instead of G like some diatonic accordions. This
>pattern is repeated in the higher draw notes as well: holes 8-12,
>instead of being D-F-A-B-D are D-F-B-D-F. The legends accompanying the
>tuning illustration state: "This model represents the celebrated
>Richter instrument, the best in use ; the kind that the fine Artist,
>PROF. WALLACH usually performs on at his concerts" and "The perfect
>Scale of this size Harmonica in C, commences on the Fourth hole, and
>ends on the Seventh."
>So perhaps the standard tuning changed between 1870 and 1886, or
>perhaps proponents of competing systems were willing to invoke the
>names of such eminent players as Prof. Wallach in aid of their causes.

The basic diatonic harmonica tuning had a few slight variations in the
late 1800s, as did the related diatonic accordion tuning. 

The 1908 patent to W. Yates for what later became known as solo tuning
(US pat# 863960) lists a few examples of these variations as prior art
to his own invention:

BLOW  C  E  G  C  E  G  C  E  G  C
HOLE  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
DRAW  D  F B  D  F  A  B  D  F  B

(Noting that 3 draw and 10 draw could sometimes be A instead of B; a
12-hole version is also given, with the same alternates for 3 and 10

BLOW  E  G  C  E  G  C  E  G  C E
HOLE  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
DRAW  F  B  D  F  A  B  D  F  A B 

(This is how many 1-row 10-botton accordions are tuned. Yates also
noted that 2 draw could be an A and 10 draw could be a D)

By the turn of the 20th century, the tuning we currently use seems to
have become more or less standardised.

 -- Pat.

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