Re: [Harp-L] SPAH and me

And here's a sort-of digest of the replies on Facebook (including mine):

We had a two-hour melody concert at the same times as the Thursday blues concert, featuring PT Gazell, Neil Adler doing a mostly melodic Toots tribute, and myself with violinist Tuula Cotter harmonizing on Latin tunes that were also American pop hits between about 1930 and 1955. Rosco missed this, as did many, because Jason Ricci and Kim Wilson were the promoted attractions.

We had youth scholarship participants playing melodies. One of them played Heitor Villa Lobos' Aria from Bachianas Brasilerias No. 5 (you've heard this even if you don't know the name; it's very beautiful) and then sat down at the piano and played Paul Desmond's Take 5, one hand playing the piano part and the other playing chromatic. Most of the other youth scholars were melody players as well.

We featured Cara Cooke fronting an incredible bluegrass ensemble, with harmonica being just one of the melody instruments. We featured the modern incarnation of the Harmonicats and an absolutely incredible classical player from Germany, Alexandra Mueller.

I sometimes hear people complain that SPAH is 95% blues, at which point I start reciting the many other activities that go on there. Perception is one thing, the reality is another if you only look around you.

Still, the point is well taken that the harmonica is more than a solo instrument. Playing backup, adding texture to the ensemble sound, and similar subjects are ones that I've taught for years, including when I gave seminars at the SPAH convention before I got too busy helping run things. I agree that they're valuable and could be given more emphasis.

Similarly, rock and other styles of music could get more exposure - if someone would step up and do it, like Marko Balland from France has been doing in seminars at SPAH for the last few years and that Jason Ricci does when he demonstrates his pedal rig. That's the key - someone needs to step up and do it. SPAH is an all-volunteer organization, except for the paid sound providers and professional entertainers.

If you see something you feel is missing or could be done better, help us to make that a reality.

Winslow Yerxa
Producer, the Harmonica Collective
Author, Harmonica For Dummies, ISBN 978-0-470-33729-5
            Harmonica Basics For Dummies, ASIN B005KIYPFS
            Blues Harmonica For Dummies, ISBN 978-1-1182-5269-7
Resident Expert,
Instructor, Jazzschool Community Music School
President emeritus, SPAH, the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica

From: rosco <roscoharp@xxxxxxxxx>
To: "harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx" <harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx> 
Sent: Wednesday, August 19, 2015 7:03 AM
Subject: [Harp-L] SPAH and me

I'm a bad Harp-l citizen! Seems I'm one of those people who only post to
Harp-l when I'm trying to promote something I did or something I'm going to
do. In my defense, the biggest reason for that is that almost EVERYONE on
this list knows more about how harps work, the history of harmonica, and
how to play the thing than I do. I usually have nothing to add to the
discussions. But I am a regular reader and I think Harp-l is a fantastic
resource for our community. So...this post is both a promotional one and, I
hope, the springboard for discussion.
My thoughts on my SPAH experience:
SPAH is awesome, and anyone who is interested in harmonica and hasn't
attended a SPAH should go! I tell everyone that, and I believe it! When I
was first learning to play harp, SPAH was incredibly inspiring. In those
days I was playing mainly blues, and for a blues guy, SPAH is heaven. As I
expanded the styles of music I wanted to play, there wasn't as much to gain
musically from SPAH. SPAH is maybe 50% blues oriented? And the rest is
split up into Jazz Chro, country, a little folk, and some miscellaneous
personality driven music (classical, Celtic, etc.). For me,SPAH has became
less and less about the performances and seminars, and more about the close
friendships I've made and that I'm still making in the harp community. This
is not necessarily an indictment of SPAH - the convention seems to please
most of the attendees...but it MIGHT be an indictment of our harmonica
community in general. There is a huge range of music where our instrument
is very under-represented. These days I'm involved with singer/songwriters
and bands that play original Americana,  pop, and rock. These genres are
what I mostly listen to, as do millions of other music fans, and they are
what I want to play! And would I love to hear more of on 'our' instrument
played by others in this larger universe of music. It seems there isn't
much instruction or discussion oriented towards making harp a legitimate
'band' instrument outside of blues...maybe there isn't much interest, but
the A in SPAH stands for ADVANCEMENT.
Here are some of the things I'm interested in that I've learned through
years of trial and error: trying to make  harp fit without always
shoehorning a solo in; playing 'parts' with bandmates; playing the melody;
laying out for a verse or two while the song builds (or just LAYING OUT
ALTOGETHER!); playing long tones with varied vibrato; finding a part that
makes a chorus 'pop' - that kind of stuff. (I think of my harp as playing
violin-like lines when I'm comping behind a singer.) There is not much of
this at SPAH. Even the best performances are usually so harp-centric that
they wear out my ears...and I LOVE harp! I'm sure someone somewhere at SPAH
sang a song with harmony vocals and sweet harp fills, but I missed it. I
miss it every time I go. There is an emphasis on blues and jazz that is
understandable - most players fall somewhere along that continuum.  I don't
hear harp used much to accompany a singer or to fit into the song as a
'real' band instrument and not just to solo. I hear some, sure,  but not a
lot. Maybe there isn't much interest in this kind of playing? Or maybe we
slot ourselves too easily into what we are expected to play? I love Blues,
but I think there is a lot of untapped potential for harmonica in other
forms of music.

Anyway, I just put this on Facebook:

'I just got back from a large gathering of harmonica players from all over
the world. There were some truly great performances by harmonica
wizards....but I missed hearing actual songs! Harmonica can be used as much
more than just a blues instrument or for a flashy solo break! I've been
trying to make harp work in 'songs' for a long time, and now I've written
and recorded an album with that philosophy.'

You can listen to 4 of my songs here:
Ron 'Rosco' Selley


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