In 1862, the harmonica came to the U.S and began a unique musical journey, starting out from the lowest of places--the fields, farms and plains. But, the harmonica had a Fearsome Foursome rooting for it from the start: Quality, Novelty, Portability and Price. These traits inspired broad trial. And trial soon led to experimentation. As a result, the new way of playing that's now called 'crossharp' was born. (Crossharp is that style of play in which the 2 hole 'draw' becomes the tonal center instead of the 1-, 4- and 7-hole 'blows;' it's notorious for that 'bent' bluesy sound.)
As crossharp took hold, the harmonica's status as an instrument climbed. In the 1940s, the hand-held microphone was added for amplification. The loud-sobbing nightclub sound further propelled its legitimacy and popularity.
Around its 100-year anniversary, the harmonica found itself in demand. Blues harmonica soloists were needed to meet that demand, and soon market structures had become established to support the little rebel with the soulful, urban sound.
Meanwhile, the rebel Bob Dylan was carving out his own artistic and economic niche.
Dylan marks an interesting aberration in the harmonica's evolution.
Because crossharp harmonica playing had become so prevalent by then, Dylan, for aesthetic reasons, intentionally sidestepped the crossharp path, deciding instead to play the harmonica straight. Though seemingly a step backwards for the instrument, a new pathway was ultimately created. Call this re-emergent 'folksy' sound the 'Roots' or 'Americana' path.
Another important discovery emerged around the late 70s--'overblowing.' By doing just that, a skilled player found he or she could 'hit' previously missing notes on the basic 10-holed, Richter-tuned harmonica. In the right hands, the diatonic harmonica today can be played fully chromatically.
This raises the question, though. What exactly are the 'right' hands for the harmonica?
Rebels feel illegitimate when they achieve legitimacy.
Along the course of its journey, the instrument seems to have become the tool of an 'establishment,' an establishment replete with elite artists,'publics,' professional go-betweens, educators, publishers and promoters. In its transformation to a formal, serious, legitimate musical instrument
, the harmonica has lost something vital; namely, its novelty. And this has cost it a large portion of its mass appeal.
The little musical rebel that marched up out of the marsh now appears positioned for a fate worse than obscurity; call it irrelevance. That is, unless something new its way comes...
Indeed, something new is needed, and now, to revive the harmonica's status as an instrument of the people.
This is where the harmonica USB comes in...
Certainly, with the addition of flash memory, the harmonica's novelty status is instantly reinvigorated. Trial, too, is encouraged, and not just among accomplished players and an existing following of 'harmonica snobs' in biker garb; but among new players, players from unrelated areas--some musical, some not.
In a way, ironically, the high-tech harmonica USB returns the instrument to the magical 'hobo campground' where its journey originated--where nobody prejudged it or expected anything in particular from it, at all. The harmonica USB reactivates the Fearsome Foursome of Quality, Novelty, Price and Portability. And this time, the instrument's novelty aspect is upgraded to include something as valuable as music itself: usefulness.
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