I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Musical but unloved

Most people wish they could make music but are discouraged by sharps, flats, staves and the treble clef. They needn’t be.

They could, of course, sing but most are too shy. The alternative is what Brits provocatively call a mouth organ and Americans (ever prudish) a harmonica. That’s what I turned to after Yahway broke my heart by breaking my voice, denying me effortless and unthinking upper register work.

Eventually I graduated to a 12-hole chromatic MO with a plunger at the end to add the in-between notes. I’m astonished to discover (via Google) it had a range of three octaves. Can’t say I often used the extremes.

Consecutive notes are mainly achieved by blowing or sucking. Many people say they couldn’t get on with that but it’s easier than it sounds. In fact my version of Jeremiah Clark’s trumpet voluntary sounded more plausible on the MO than on the trumpet. No need to train as such. Go blow-suck-blow, sliding along the mouthpiece, until the sequence matches doh-ray-me. Then Three Blind Mice. And you’re away.

Two disadvantages. The mouth organ has no dignity: at a distance you could be taken to be eating a sandwich rather than making music. Also it’s fearfully unsanitary and unlike other blown instruments it has no drain taps. Perhaps dying for St Cecilia is dignified.

LdP CONCISE SONNET COMP Done my first draft and it was pure agony. You write a good line but find you’ve wasted words. You compress and it gets clunky. And is a hyphenated pair one word or two? A guideline: Shakespeare’s Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day runs to 114 words. Shockingly profligate; got to get under that.


  1. My father had a collection of harmonicas, ranging in length from one about 2 inches long to the monster (it seemed so to me) at 13
    inches, with three rows of holes. He was a great fan of the Harmonicats musical/comedy act.

    Daddy liked playing the smallest one around the dogs, because it made them "sing."

    I don't recall a plunger at the end of any of them, but - then again - we kids weren't allowed to handle them, so there might have been.

  2. Sorry, that was Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang.

  3. Some years ago I was at a lunch where the great Larry Adler was also a guest. At the time he combined a column of restaurant criticism, I think for The Oldie magazine, with music. During the meal he gave me a mouth organ signed on the side with his name. It is about half an inch long and has four holes, one octave I think. I sometimes play it when entirely on my own, as I do another more conventional one.

  4. Nothing to do with harmonicas, more about the blog theme in general – worth checking out:

    Howe Gelb, so musically confident and talented he dares to make his music sound slightly amateurish -

    And for a Francophile, il faut ├ęcouter Francis Cabrel, for example -

  5. The Crow: Johnny Puleo and His Harmonica Gang. Isn't that name - in all its innocence - evidence of the passage of time. Nowadays, always assuming harmonicas were thought to fit in with the pop scene, they'd be called the Manic-Depressives or Standing Water.

    Perhaps your Dad kept you away fom his collection because, as I point out, harmonicas are unsanitary. Have you never, in all your life, blown a harmonica? And thought you could at least produce When The Saints Go Marching In on it?

    Plutarch: It isn't often that one or the other of us admits to something completely unexpected. But this qualifies. I am well aware of your doubts about creating (and sometimes even listening to) music but half an hour's experimentation with a mouth organ will usually convince even the profoundest doubter that there's music there to be extracted, even if it is just for one's own consumption. MOs are sometimes used in movies to convey solitariness and poignancy but to anyone playing them these are not the predominant qualities. As with any other instrument there's the sheer personal pleasure of getting three or four notes in the right order and with the correct emphasis. I hope this has been the case for you.

    En passant: An excellent blogonym for a blogging nomad. Welcome.

    Given that you appear familiar with one or two of Tone Deaf's little weaknesses I played both these recommendations. For those who haven't I should explain that both qualify for what in posh music would be described as sprechstimme (lit. speak voice), a style of singing made popular by Kurt Weill in Mack The Knife and other songs, and by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. Both are pop, one American one French.

    Both flirt with a recurring problem in pop music (for me at least) - should the words be taken seriously? The jury is still out on this with more poppish pop, but here sprechstimme lays bare the words and it is reasonable to assume one is supposed to pay attention.

    With Shiver I listened to the music (mainly jangly, limited chord guitar) which proved to be slowish and well suited to the reflective mood of the song. I then Googled Shiver lyrics only to discover that the song had been covered by Coldplay. Strange, given that Coldplay are modishly popular these days and could fill the Grand Canyon with their fans were a gig to be arranged there. Closer inspection of the words revealed them to be quite banal:

    I'll be there by your side, just you try and stop me
    I'll be waiting in line, just to see if you care, if you care

    OK, OK. Wrong song, and a slander on Howe Greb whose lines included:

    Up in the high desert,
    Down in anywhere France


    Left alone in a dark room with a mouthful of description.

    and who had clearly recognised that if words are spoken (and are thus audible and potentially intelligible) they must be worth listening to. Which I can confirm.

    As to Francis Cabrel, I fear I've said some cruel things about French pop in the past and I wasn't re-assured when Samedi soir sur le terre opened up with an organ accompaniment. However, instead of aping American yah-yahs, Cabrel played to French strengths with clear (ie, non-elided) and simple language. An encouragement to anyone who has difficulty following French chat. Here's the first verse:

    Il arrive, elle le voit, elle le veut,
    Et ses yeux font le reste.
    Elle s'arrange pour mettre le feu
    Dans chacun de ses gestes.
    Apres c'est une histoire classique

    Which, literally translated (He arrives, she sees him, she wants him and her eyes do the rest. She ensures there's sparkiness in all she does. Afterwards it's a classic (love) story) given English scansion is surely a good plausible basis for a pop song this side of the Channel. But possibly lacking the French straightforwardness.

  6. Dare I admit this? Oh, what the hell, yes!

    I have a harmonica, I have worked out a few tunes, though not well enough to play for anyone else - ever!

    I think the reason Dad didn't allow us to touch his harmonicas was becasue we inexperienced enthusiasts left too much spit behind, mixed with crumbs of food. Primarily, bits of PB&J sandwiches.

    I think he was more concerned with his own health than with ours.

  7. The Crow: Playing a musical instrument for someone else requires enormous confidence. But do you share my private pleasure of picking out tunes just for the pleasure of getting the notes in the right order. To be part of music - even on the absolute fringe - is a special pleasure whatever the level of confidence.

  8. I've been meaning to do a harmonica post for the entire 5 1/2 years of my blogging life, but never got around to it. This would have had as its starting point the double-sided Hohner 'Echo Harp' and the 'chromonica' (the one with the slide) both of which I inherited from my bachelor Uncle Jack, the only remotely musical member of my extended family. The post would largely, I predicted, have ended up being a bio of Uncle J and I wasn't sure how much I cared to upset people still living by too much revelatory detail, not only concerning his staying at home to look after Granny with exemplary devotion, but also the membership cards of the gay club in Wellingborough found in his wallet after he died. Though that's probably a weak excuse for accidie on my part.

    I still occasionally play the Echo Harp, preferring the G-side to the C-side (which I suppose might sound like some veiled euphemism for the private life of UJ but wasn't intended to be), like Plutarch, when there's no one else about.

  9. Lucy: Can you imagine my immediate reaction? I Googled Wellingborough; I had to know where it was, feeling it to be somehow significant. I find it is adjacent to Irchester, Great Doddington and Irthlingborough. Only by zooming back as it were did I discover that it is in Northamptonshire, a county I am unfamiliar with. I don't quite know why, but this cheers me. The suggestion that out-of-the-way towns can nevertheless be sophisticated enough to suppport a gay club. Other than that there's the framework of yet another short story - you're always coming up with them.

    I am delighted you play the harmonica, even if it's only to amuse yourself. I had begun to assume that Tone Deaf's specialised theme was beginning to distance us. The post wasn't one of my best since a prolonged search seemed to confirm that my Hohner has disappeared and I had to write from memory. I should, I suppose, buy another but the the electronic keyboard inches from my left elbow presently meets most of my expressional needs.

  10. And this was about thirty years ago. Wellingborough is probably the metrosexual capital of the East Midlands by now.

    Sorry if I've been a bit sparse of late, no distancing intended.

  11. Well - somehow I never put you down as "'monica man". It is the only musical instrument I ever had some success with (chromatic Hohner) having tried and failed piano, trumpet and guitar. (It is the sharps, clefs, etc that fox me)

  12. Lucy: Actually I regretted that post almost immediately. I know you've had other things on your mind.

    If Wellingborough has achieved that status it's proof that gays are willing to travel to indulge their proclivity. Virtually every other gay would be geographically disadvantaged.

    Avus: I got into a fight in the RAF with someone who claimed that I couldn't play the Hohner for toffee. He was from Lancashire and he lost.

  13. No Jane Austen for me...I've come back here to laugh my ass off!