02: Harmonica

My family wasn't particularly musical. While my mom would occasionally delight me with "that one song" on piano – The Entertainer by Scott Joplin – the majority of my personal exposure to music as a child came via my parents' eclectic selection of records, tapes, and CDs. When the TV wasn't on, the stereo was. While it certainly became a musical house eventually, as a kid, playing an instrument felt somewhat magical, somewhat elusive.

Quietly and surprisingly, my Oma did just that. While not a virtuoso by any stretch of the imagination, she'd randomly re-appear in the room with her "mouth organ" and remind our family, gathered for whatever holiday or the like, that she could play a small collection of songs on harmonica.

An actual organ sat in their basement. When my sister and I weren't predictably hurting ourselves by hurling balls across the nearby billiards table, we'd flip knobs and attempt to get it working. When she heard the sound emanating from below, my Oma would pat down the wooden slat stairs in her slippers, and laugh as she'd fumble around on the keys.

In the same way I'd acquired my grandfather's pocket knife, I came into possession of my Oma's harmonicas – including her most commonly used, pictured above – after her passing. Through the years, I've always envisioned finding a way to use them to create some sort of unspoken, ambient harmonica tribute to her. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but the intention remains.

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