Yeah okay – this isn’t about the great song performed by Little Walter, his contemporaries and so many others famous and not so famous the world over. Rather it’s about a mini Aha-Eureka moment given to me as a ‘gift’ as it were. Here goes:
As tragic as 2009 was for me, still as some doors closed, other ones full of opportunity were beginning to open.
After more than 25+ years of being frustrated, yet still feeling its pull on me –
In the recent early stages of my finally deciding/wanting to learn, play and master this little instrument called the harmonica –
Unlike decades past where little or hardly any information existed, now with the internet there was tons of information available about the harp.
So excited/ecstatic was I, I began signing up, buying up anything and everything harmonica I believed would help me in this old/newfound journey I had embarked upon.
Soon boxes from Amazon and other online stores and places began showing up at my door.
From JP Allen’s boxed home course set; to instructional dvds from the likes of Norton Buffalo, Peter ‘Madcat’ Ruth, Howard Levy and others; from books by Steve Baker, Tom Ball, David Harp and others; to all sorts of makes and models from Golden Melody, Special 20, Lee Oskar and other harmonicas in sets, not to mention the cd recordings of Little Walter, Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson and others – Well, I was definitely overjoyed to say the least.
But soon, I was definitely overwhelmed as well!
With all the other heavy-duty simultaneous shit going on in my life, how was I ever going to possibly manage really learning this instrument I had set my heart on to finally knowing?!
Well from watching JP Allen’s free online vids and now his package of dvds which I now owned – in most everything he does, both spoken and unspoken, his mantra seems to be and is: Just Have Fun!
More so than anybody else I found online, JP Allen seems to be the epitome of living, breathing exuding his philosophy: Just Have Fun!
And it’s definitely contagious at that.
JP Allen appears to me to have that certain ‘something’ which amongst other things and in all respects is spiritual in nature. He’s working to bring out the best in himself, as well as the best in everybody else too. That’s the mark of a good spiritual person.
I should know, because I too am a very spiritual person also. And no, it’s not something to brag about, or carry as a banner for all to see, because tons of humility comes with the territory. Yet at some time in some place where it has to be mentioned, well, you just have to trust in and let your spirits be your guide, and let the chips fall where they may.
And this is one of those times in one of those places.
First up, ever so briefly:
Years ago, one afternoon, at the home of my teacher, I was struggling with his lawnmower cutting the grass. Being a different type of mower I had never seen or worked with before, the grass catcher would fall off every 5-10 feet. I’d have to stop and put it back on again. As well it was difficult to push and maneuver.
After an hour of sweating my ass off and cursing up a storm in the hot Mexican sun, with him laughing hysterically at my endeavors – he came over and showed me again how to operate it.
Not only did he operate it effortlessly, he also danced around the yard with it as if he was Fred Astaire and it was Ginger Rogers. Magnificent!
After all was said and done, I said: Yeah, well it’s your lawnmower, so of course you know how to use it. “Sure”.
But you also had to struggle with it until you found out how to operate it correctly. “No! You made it too hard on yourself from the start. You wanted to control it, by force if necessary as you’ve shown. Me, I knew nothing about this lawnmower. But unlike you, what I did was to ‘ASK’ it to show me how to use it. It obliged! And so now we’re friends!”
Yeah, okay, of course, it was an unusual tale by a rather unusual teacher. But I learned then how to use his lawnmower.
Cut now to the present:
I was becoming overwhelmed with all the stuff I had just bought. But I took JP Allen’s piece of advice to put harmonicas around the house in strategic areas because you’ll never know when you’ll want to pick one up and play it.
While making dinner, and struggling with the harp I was trying to play, I off-handedly said aloud to no one in particular – ‘Yeah, okay, teach me something, show me how to learn from and use you!’
Later that night, I lay down on the couch, lights off, working on JP’s lessons of Deep Relaxed Embouchure, breathing from the diaphragm, and just inventing stuff as I went along.
After about 10 minutes, my harmonica locked up on me. ‘Dammit! Guess I’ll have to fix this in the morning.’ Yet not wanting to stop the good mood I was in, I set it down and reached for another harmonica.
I played that for about 10 minutes, and this one locked up. ‘Another one!?’
I picked up yet a third harmonica and as I began playing it, I had an Aha-Eureka moment!
You see, while I was playing my harmonicas, while starting out with the same relative tunes – like Oh Susannah and MAS*H and whatnot – I began also playing different things on them as well. Things I never heard or imagined I could play before, up until that moment.
Meaning, each harmonica was in a different key. And each key sounded different from the next. And on each key harmonica I had played something completely different from the one before it.
Or rather, in words and experiences I could understand:
Each key harmonica was having me play something completely different “from the spirit” that was “living/existing” in that particular key instrument!
It was a stunning revelation for me. So much so that I reached down and picked up another harmonica. Without thought, it was one that had locked up earlier.
Whether it was stuff in the holes that had settled or choked reeds that had relaxed, whatever it was, the harmonica played with no further problems that night. And so did the other previously locked up one play perfectly at that! On through the night, I played my heart out and had fun with them all!
Now call it whatever you want, coincidence or not – Still, for me, the gift given of finding the spirit/the soul within was still a stunning revelation for me then; as it continually inspires me today! Each and every day!
Meaning, sure, I’m just like everybody here and everywhere who may be struggling to learn this song, that technique and so on. But I also put JP Allen’s advice of: “Just Have Fun!” to great effect in my own life!
Plus, I took his other words of advice which were basically: “Don’t leave home without it!” It being a harmonica because you’ll never know when the fresh air, spirits, elements, whatever may inspire you to pull it out and play it! And it does, and I do!
Yet I also take not one, but at least three different harps with me. Why? Because each one, in its own key, plays something different than the others. And in my “going with the flow” – I never try to pre-plan or over-think what I’m going to play and do where. I let my spirit and the harps’ spirits be my guide! And it’s great fun!
So say, if I leave the house starting on my Piedmont Bb, I might be somewhere else and the Big River G calls out for some action. Or maybe the Golden Melody E. If my Mojo F gets a little worn out and tired, then it’s GM C’s turn. And if my Lee Oskar Am wants to come out and play along also, I put them both together and let them sing their duets!
Now the point here is not to tell you about all the different harmonicas I have – No!
Most people, myself included, only started out with one harmonica, usually a C, at a time. That’s great because at least you/me/we started somewhere!
But then those who find a real joy in playing harmonica will eventually explore the possibilities of other keys, makes, models in whatever’s calling out to them. That’s the beauty of harmonica universe! So diverse! So inspiring! So wonderfully amazing!
But whether or not you personally believe in having a ‘spiritual’ connection with your own instruments – Well, that’s entirely up to. Yet, I’ve never heard of any musician not having a ‘something else’ indescribable, unexplainable, just a “feeling from within” that drove them onwards. Simply calling it “Soul!” is a great beginning, and yes, quite acceptable at that.
Too putting my spiritual thoughts and feelings into words may not always jive with some; however, it was when I came across Harrison harmonicas that my inner feelings were confirmed. Here they describe what each key of the harmonica is customarily used for:
Bottom line: Whether or not you actually believe there’s a connection with your harmonica, again, that’s all up to you. But if some small part of you says ‘just maybe’…Well then, when you’re struggling with this song, with that technique – take a break and mentally brush it all aside for the time being. If you have a different harmonica in a different key, set the one down and pick the other one up. Give yourself the permission to relax and go with it, go with the flow!
Do so and soon enough you just may discover for yourself that Getting These Keys (any different harmonica key) to the Highway (on your journey through the harmonica universe) is all it takes to Release Your (and Its) Soul from Within!
Keep on harpin’!
Thanks for reading!