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Book Review: Peter Krampert
The Encyclopedia of the Harmonica


Chronological History
Alphabetical Listings
Harmonica Clubs
Various Artists Recordings

total pages: 330
published: 1998
softcover, no photographs or drawings

Publisher: Tatanka Publishing
PO Box 4104
Arlington Heights, IL 60006-4104
phone: 847-788-1728

Review by Henry Doktorski:

Despite its overwhelming popularity, the harmonica is perhaps one of the world's least appreciated instruments, and this is true not just for classical music. As a classical accordionist, I know that many of my colleagues think that our instrument is not respected, considering the myriad accordion jokes and association of the accordion with proletarian music such as polkas and other dance music.

Yet, I learned after reading The Encyclopedia of the Harmonica, that the classical mouth organist has had a much greater struggle. The American Federation of Musicians did not even recognize the harmonic as a musical instrument -- it was classified as a toy -- until 1948, and that was only after The Harmonicats' recording of Peg O' My Heart became the number one best-selling song of that year.

Despite its humble position within the world of musical instruments, the harmonica is perhaps the most popular instrument in the history of our planet. It has been played by paupers, popes and presidents; by con men, crapshooters and cowboys for every kind of music from Bach to the blues. It was the first instrument in space (astronaut Wally Schirra played Jingle Bells on a Hohner Little Lady model that he smuggled aboard the Gemini 4 spacecraft in 1965) and it appeared with the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. It is affordable and portable; it is the instrument of the people.

In the short five-page chapter titled "History" I learned that the harmonica was invented in 1821 and first mass produced in Austria in 1829. In 1857 clock-maker Matthias Hohner began making harmonicas in his kitchen and with the help of his family and one or two workmen, he produced 700 instruments. After ten years, his company was manufacturing 22,000 instruments per year. By 1887, M. Hohner Inc. produced 1 million harmonicas per year. After ten more years, Hohner was producing 3 million harmonicas per year. In 1911 the company produced 8 million harmonicas per year and by 1925, Hohner's annual sales peaked at 25 million instruments. Although sales have decreased since then, Hohner produced its one billionth harmonica in 1986.

Talk about popularity!

The alphabetical listings section of the encyclopedia is the largest section of the book; it consists of 276 pages and contains hundreds of references from Larry Adler to Neil Young; from vaudeville players like Don Les to rock players like John Lennon. Although most of the entries are for pop and folk players, most of the classical players seem to be included (except for the Far Eastern Asian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. players).

I can't imagine a serious mouth organist who would not want The Encyclopedia of the Harmonica in his library!

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