... youngster blows out all with "Oh, Susannah"
Even though we no longer pull an Airstream travel trailer, Russell and I were able to attend the annual Region One Rally of the Wally Byam Caravan Club, International ("WBCCI"). This year the Rally was held at the Rochester (NH) Fairgrounds in late August. It was indeed a privilege to be there, since the only Airstream we now own is literally "tied down" at Travelers Rest in Florida. Our participation in the Rally is due to the generosity of a generous and loving young couple who towed their two trailers to Rochester. They used one and we occupied the other. We are truly grateful. It was an extraordinary gathering, well attended by members from New England and Canada. The programming was excellent; the food was very good and spirits were high.
The Wally Byam organization ranks very high in my esteem because, among other reasons, its members know how to enjoy life without spending a lot of money. For instance, on the Saturday morning right after breakfast there were four different programs offered, each with its special focus. Russell and I chose to attend a lesson in learning to play the harmonica.
Of the 240 or so people at the Rally, 40 attended the Harmonica Lesson. The group included students of all ages, from pre-school to 92. The Rally organizers had been able to buy enough harmonicas so that each person in the group received one. Our teacher was Gus Sbrogna, a Worcester native and enthusiastic member of WBCCI. He taught himself to play the harmonica decades ago and has been playing and enjoying it ever since.
Gus is an outstanding teacher. First he explained that the harmonicas we were using are called "Diatonic." One cannot play sharps or flats on such a harmonica, whereas a chromatic instrument has buttons for that purpose. He showed us how to hold the harmonica. With the numbers on top facing the player, the higher notes are on your right. There were 10 numbered holes in the instruments we used.
Gus demonstrated how to blow OUT on hole 4. It is important to cover up the unused holes with one's fingers and/or tongue. He urged his pupils to seek for "clean" notes, not fuzzy sounds. After we had all blown OUT on hole four several times, Gus praised us and then explained how to play the scale of C. Hole 4 makes the "do" sound. The same hole also makes the sound for "re" by breathing IN rather than OUT. Breathing OUT and then IN on holes 5 and 6 will produce "mi," "fa," "sol," "la."
There is a change from "la" to "ti." From "la" to "ti" the player breathes IN twice in succession, using holes 6 and 7. Then OUT again on hole 7 for the top note of the octave. Gus had us practice playing the scale up and down while he conducted by means of gracefully pushing his hands out for an OUT note or making an inward sweep with great feeling for an IN note. He commended the class when our efforts justified the praise, and cautioned us again to strive for clean notes.
During the explanation of how to play "do" in the scale of C by using hole 4, one of the pupils asked, "Why do they bother with the first three holes?" Gus answered, to laughter, "Don't worry about it." Later in the session he drew another laugh from the more senior members by stating, "When you get older, you've gotta think hard."
Near the end of the hour Gus started teaching us how to write the notations for playing "Oh, Susannah." A note produced by breathing OUT is signified by an arrow pointing up; whereas a note made by breathing IN is indicated by a downward-pointing arrow. We ran out of time before most of us could master that. However, Tiana Ahmed, an eleven-year old girl sitting on my left, went back to her family's trailer and worked at it until she could play the song faultlessly. It is a tribute to a teacher when a pupil is that much inspired.