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My Harmonica Journey : By Gautam Rischie

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

My father is a music lover and as kids we grew up in a small town (Bhagalpur, Bihar) listening to variety of songs & music, both Indian and Western. Thanks to my father's extensive research and perseverance in getting the customised cassettes of some very rare and melodious tunes. This is how we also got introduced to Milon Gupta and some of his amazing renditions. Learnt guitar at the age of 6 for couple of years. This had to be discontinued as very soon I was sent to a residential school. Didn't pick up any instrument in this new school. However I was very fascinated with this pocket instrument called Mouthorgan and used to closely watch my cousins and uncles who used to play proficiently. One of my cousins was an amazing player and used to play on Hohner Chromonica.

I could finally buy my own harmonica - a Hero Tremolo in 1990 with the little savings I had. This was after I had finished my 10th ICSE boards and had gone to Delhi for my 10+2. Had purchased this from Palika Bazaar, Delhi which was a hub for this type of imported Chinese instruments. It took me about 3-4 days of being locked up in room (irritated family members! haven't you faced that too? ) and multiple trial and error methods to get the first line of 'Hai Apna Dil to awaara'. This was the AHA moment for me. There was no looking back after this... Very soon I was playing "Ye hai Bombay Meri jaan" and some popular tunes of those days (from QSQT, Parinda, Dil, Ashiqui etc). It has been a love affair with Harmonica since then. Tried to find a teacher, but every music teacher I approached said this is not a serious instrument, try learning guitar, piano, flute or some serious Indian eastern instruments. Every time my harmonica conked or broke down, had to wait till I could save enough for next. I played on Tower Harmonica for about 10 years till 2002, untill I could save enough for my first 10 hole Hohner Chromonica. Loved playing on that and picked up many new songs (all by ear). Lost that in a train theft. Now this one had costed me one kidney and one eye, I could not afford another one immediately. After few years my brother gifted me a 16 hole Hohner 280C. I continued practicing on and off on this 16 hole. I also had a couple of diatonics (marine band) - used to play on them as well. Every time one hole or the other used to stop playing - I had no idea what was happening. Just used to stop playing as I did not know how and where to get that repaired. I had moved to Chennai in 1997 after being recruited and placed here for my first engineering job. Chennai, unfortunately, had no such repair services.

This year, I also joined few online forums and listened to some great players in IMP, Harpbrothers and other online forums. After listening to some of the players in these forums I realised that after so many years, I was still playing this instrument like a novice. I was predominantly a lip purser throughout the journey with occasional tongue touch in few songs. I acquired a couple of 12 hole Hohner harmonicas this year. I learnt tongue block method of playing this year. I started looking at notations of songs I used to play by ear and started practicing them with corrections where required. I now feel that both notations and ears complement each other and help a player to improve. I could also find that notation helps in getting some fine modulations, which our ears may miss. Joining some online forums and learning platforms have been very helpful in learning some new techniques. More important than playing, the online forums have been a big help in resolving repair and maintenance issues of harmonica, an important aspect to get the most out of one's harmonica.

I also feel that our newly formed Chennai Harmonica Club (CHC) which started only this year, opened up many new avenues of learning for many of us at Chennai. Everyday, there is something new to learn. I came across this statement from someone very senior in our club "Art is long, life is short". I fully subscribe to this statement. Learning is a life long journey.... and the love affair with Harmonica will continue.

While I have my short term and long term goals in my learning journey, my own dream songs that I would love to learn and play some day on harmonica : O Sajna barkha bahaar & Ayega Aanewala - just like Milon Gupta has played or as close as possible to his rendition Jai Harmonica! Gautam Rischie Chennai

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