Support! Shop our affiliates!
Sheet Music PlusFeatured Sale

Weekly Rampage Archives

Search for Keyword:  in Rampages 

Home Page

February 18, 2004
Vol. IV, No. 6

"Pulling Out All the...Harmonicas?"
The section of West 48th Street that lies between Seventh Avenue and Avenue of the Americas (New Yorkers call it Sixth Avenue) is famous among rock and pop musicians as the center of the music store universe. Among the many music stores located there, the two largest, Manny's and Sam Ash, have vied with each other for years for supreme dominance of "Music Store Row." I work close by in Times Square so I often find myself passing by and peering into their windows. Musical instruments qualify as "eye candy" long before we begin using them to create "ear candy!"

Last Friday, in the course of a lunchtime errand, I found myself walking down this famous strip yet again. The experience would have been rather uneventful had I not bumped into a group of people who were rather unusual compared to the "musician types" who usually frequent the area. A class of grade-school kids was lined up outside the Sam Ash Band Instrument store, I guess in preparation for a tour because they were being read the riot act: no running, no touching, blah, blah, blah. After a frown and an acknowledging "hrmph" at the scene, I continued on my errand.

About twenty minutes later, while retracing my route back to work, I received a surprise when I ran into the kids again. This time, I heard them before I saw them. They were crossing 48th Street, on their way down Seventh Avenue, and Sam Ash had gifted them all with harmonicas. Twenty-five kids strolling down the avenue playing harmonicas. It wasn't as annoying as you might think. They could barely compete with the street noise and the effect of the many random notes was like the gentle twinkling of a wind chime. Imagine a flock of migrating geese passing high over head, their honking barely perceptible. It was a pleasant diversion for me, a smile. I don't know how much they learned about music in their short time at the store but they all left happily tootin' away.

In my mind I connected the experience with another I'd had the previous Wednesday night. During my postlude, I had noticed something different about my playing, a surprising freeness. I was carefree, uncharacteristically unaffected by wrong notes. What was the source of this playful abandon? I wondered if it perhaps had something to do with reading Craig Whitney's "All the Stops." Maybe it was liberating to have discovered that no matter how much I practice and improve, I'll always be a small fries compared to Virgil Fox and E. Power Biggs. The pressure is off--flail away! (Really, it wasn't so bad; in my newly-found relaxed state, I was actually making fewer mistakes than usual.)

From "All the Stops," my mind next leaped to an episode of "Scrubs" I'd watched the night before. At first, I wasn't sure why. (Is it any wonder I was making mistakes, given that I was thinking about TV while playing?) "Scrubs" is a TV show on NBC that takes place in a hospital. A new doctor, played by Michael J. Fox, comes to visit and his abilities are so impressive that he shakes the home-team doctors to their core. He's faster than the Surgeon, more knowledgeable than the Attending and uninterested in mentoring the insecure Resident. But then they find out that he has OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and, in the end, find comfort in realizing that no matter how good you are at something, everybody has their problems. Heavy stuff considering it's a comedy show.

Anyway, that was the connection. In "All the Stops" I'd read all about Fox and Biggs and their highs and lows. The "take-away" was that "Bein' the best ain't all it's cracked up to be." Perhaps that's just a myth perpetuated by the elite to soothe the masses but, myth or not, the idea certainly manifested itself in the lives of those two viruosos. Maybe being a Fox or Biggs wouldn't be so bad if I could do it for just a day but, given the choice, I think I'd be happiest as a harmonica-tootin' innocent. Since I can't be either, "Here I am, stuck in the middle with you." Hey, we're in good company! ;-)

Click this link to read comments and offer your own:

Updated Pages
Organ Links:
Added is the organ at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. Also added is the Richards Fowkes organ at Christ Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Organ Schools:
Added is the School of Music, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Also added is the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, Houston, Texas.

WHAT I'M READING..."All the Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters" by Craig R. Whitney. Just finished! Review to come. Click the link below for more information on this book:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's Book Club:

BROUGHT TO YOU is currently sponsored in part by SeeMusicDVD. Their latest DVD/CD release, "The Bach Gamut, Volume I" documents an historic Virgil Fox appearance at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco in 1976. For more information, please visit their website at:

Have a great week!

Dan Long

Have an Opinion on this Topic?
If you would like to share your opinion or see what others have to say, please click here.

Weekly Rampage Archives: Click here for Back Issues.