The Harmonica Is Good Enough for Me

I like music and once thought it would be fun to be really good at the harmonica.  It’s small, it travels well, I could play along with everyone, even to the car radio when we travel.  So I joined a group of wannabees.  The leader was excellent, and maybe one other member was a fair harmonica player, but the rest of us were just making noise.  Nevertheless, we made several appearances at senior citizen locations. Those folks were easy to please!

harm2We all played the basic instrument, key of C, ten holes.  Our leader owned half a dozen harmonicas, and when he played them for us, he was pretty good.  We all aspired to something more, so most of us bought a second one, bigger, more expensive.

Harmonica playing takes time.  Practice.  Keep  at it.  My best performance was “Oh! Susannah.”  Non players may not know it, but that’s the basic song.  Everybody can play it.  I didn’t realize that at the time, so when I attended a concert given by an extraordinary harmonica player (harmonicanator?) I bought his CD and as he signed the cover I mentioned my own accomplishment.

“Hmmpf,” was his replay. What a put down!

Eventually I dropped out of the group, but found a once-or-twice-a-year outlet for my talent.  My older daughter plays piano very well and at holidays she gets together with a neighbor who plays the ukulele. They play carols and other sing-along tunes for the party goers.  Recently I joined them with my harmonica.


I’ve got rhythm.  When I play I’m all over the place with my body movements.  So, the applause and laughter (even the uke player broke up) proves that I’m doing pretty well.  My music is great!  It can be heard and I can be seen.  My daughter and her neighbors look forward to our concerts.

There’s one other thing I would like to say about harmonicas.  (And here is a history lesson…)  Back in 1858 when Stephen Douglas was the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat from Illinois and Abraham Lincoln was the candidate for the Republican Party, they met in a series of debates.  Douglas would show up at the event in a grand carriage, dressed in his finest, complete with a brass band and a cannon salute.  Lincoln came by train, walking from the depot to the site of the debate.  His apparel was not as fancy, and now dusty from walking the dirt street.  Often his coat was ill-fitting.  There was no brass band for him.

Once, when asked what he thought about all the pomp that Douglas brought with him he responded, “The harmonic is good enough for me!”  (Thus today’s title.)

I had occasion to use this quote when I spoke at an educational event on the debates between Lincoln and Douglas.  After quoting the former I whipped out my harmonica and played the first few recognizable notes of “Oh! Susannah!”  I can’t say that I received a standing ovation for my tune, but lots of surprised looks, then smiles and finally a clap or two!

So, what’s the point of this?  Well, maybe that simple things are still good, but that everything takes work, takes effort. Yes, I must get back to practicing the harmonica.


It’s a simple instrument, but can play wonderful music in the right hands.  Is there a lesson in there somewhere?

Maybe.  I am always trying, and sometimes I’m even keeping up.


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