The Mysteries of the Harmonica
The harmonica is a mystery to me. Blow into it, get vaguely musical noise. Move air up and down the slots in the harmonica, get a cascade of noise. At least that’s what happens when I noodle on one, including cheapo models and a couple of expensive, polished metal harmonicas complete with their own cases that I’ve had the chance to handle over the years. The quality of the instrument doesn’t matter. The noise I make is a distance cousin of music, and they’re not on speaking terms.
So how does Corky Siegel do it? The mystery deepens. From off stage, all I could see were his hands cupped together, moving rapidly, with a microphone wire emerging from them. Or, during the moments when he left the stage and played for a few minutes in one of the aisles, just his hands cupped over the instrument, moving rapidly, blowing fine without benefit of an amp. Somehow, he produced wa-was and wails and lonesome blue notes.
Even if I’d been standing next to him, his exact technique would be elusively hard to see, since besides his hands, much of the rest of Corky Siegel is in motion when he plays. Body motion during harmonica jams, and a stomping foot during his piano numbers. He's got an impressive amount of energy for a man in his mid-60s at least, but I guess that’s a natural extension of his enthusiasm for performance.
Corky wasn’t the only harmonica player on the bill. Howard Levy, a tall fellow of roughly my age dressed all in black, played in duet with Corky, or sometimes with the other musicians or solo, when Corky was off resting. Energetic he may be, but no spring chicken.
The handoffs to Mark Levy were seamless, and as far as I could hear, he has every bit as much talent as Corky Siegel. He opened the second set under a spotlight doing an arrestingly beautiful harmonica version of “Amazing Grace,” did a couple of adapted Romanian Folk Dances (Bartók), and at one point accompanied himself by playing the piano with his left hand and the harmonica with his right.