“If you can breathe you can play harmonica”

Lou and I combined have led over a hundred Play the Blues harmonica team building activities for corporate groups. In 2017 and 2018 we tried something different. We’ve been teaching open classes at our local libraries. It’s been great – a win/win. We give something back both to our communities we live in and the libraries we both love so much. And being with really young kids, their Moms and Dads, seniors and everyone in-between really fills the heart. It puts a spotlight on how hard it is in the corporate world for everyone involved. In contrast general anxiety, overwhelm, suspicion, and entitlement is magically erased with kids and adults together. Shared, genuine appreciation feeds a deep spring inside. Scott Calzolaio from the Milford Daily News stopped by and wrote a story about it. Here it is below (or you can read it at their site here):

Blues, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and others, the harmonica is found most everywhere in the music spectrum.

With a few breaths of air, musician Lou Manzi pushed some twangy blues out of his harmonica at the Medway Library on Wednesday afternoon. He was showing off techniques like bending notes, and using his hand to make what he called a “wah-wah” sound, during their bi-weekly lesson.

Manzi led this lesson, filling in for regular teacher Rob Fletcher. Manzi recapped the basics before getting into the blues and rock ‘n’ roll techniques that create a great harmonica player.

He has been a musician since the 1970s, playing in bands, teaching guitar, and doing other projects. Now retired, he plays with a swing and blues band called The Howling Hound Dogs, and teaches lessons.

He said the best way to improve while learning the harmonica, like anything else, is practice.

“It’s kind of a wacky instrument because in some ways it’s very easy just to make a sound. If you can breathe, you can play the harmonica,” he laughed. “But can you really play the harmonica really good? Probably not.”

The challenge, he said, is getting to know the instrument more intimately by practicing each note one at a time, and mastering it. He said it isn’t as easy as it looks, but he can make a good harmonica player out of anyone.

After about 40 years of playing, Manzi said he’s still not the harmonica master he wants to be, but there’s always room for improvement with any instrument, and he’s still learning.

“I like Little Walter the most,” he said. “I like the early players the most, like Sonny Boy Williamson.”

A group of budding blues players of all ages on Wednesday learned songs such as Billy Joel’s Piano Man to Beethoven’s Ode To Joy.

“We’re very interested in music, and I just love exploring new options,” said Holliston resident Nicole McWilliams, explaining why she joined the class.

Her son Andrew McWilliams, 11, took the lesson with her. Andrew brought along his own harmonica collection to flaunt during hour–long session.

“We’re just a musical family, I’ve been into music for awhile,” he said, explaining that he plays guitar and trumpet. “I already play harmonica, but I wanted to get more involved.”

Some had more personal reasons for wanting to learn. Medway resident Pat Mailman said she’s following the legacy of her father.

“In fact, my dad was pretty good at it,” she said. “I lost him about a year ago, so I figured I’d give it a shot.”

When it comes to the instrument, Manzi said there is a lot that sets it apart from others. Being able to manipulate one sound in a variety of ways is what makes the harmonica so versatile among music genres.

“There’s a lot unique about harmonica. For one, you can put it in your shirt pocket,” he said. “It’s very expressive in the fact that you can imitate a singer or a human voice with it.”

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