Reply To: Improving the perception of the melodica

Daren Banarsë

This is such an interesting topic. I think there’s several reasons the melodica isn’t perceived as a serious instrument.

* Many people have only ever heard a melodica being played crudely by an amateur or young child, and always associate that sound with the instrument

* Most melodicas you hear in an ensemble are quite out of tune, and grate with the other instruments

* Even when you tune your melodica, its virtually impossible to achieve any true consistency because of moisture build-up, causing random deviations, and a drop in pitch within the first few minutes of playing

* Most melodicas look like toys, or at their best, cheap plastic objects. I’d include the ‘higher end’ models out there – to me they still don’t compare to any other acoustic instrument. Even the cheapest £50 violin is made of wood!

* It only makes use of one hand. The melodica is generally played with the right hand, leaving the left redundant. This makes it appear an “easy” instrument to play. There are of course some exceptions, breaking the mold, and maximising performance capabilities with both hands.

I like the idea of new composition for melodica, but unfortunately there’s already a lot of unperformed compositions out there. Not all for melodica, but the hard thing for contemporary composers is actually getting their works performed. Though as Kevin says, commissioning a well known composer could help, especially if there’s available funds for a tour and recording.

A superstar melodica performer? I think it would make a huge difference. Maybe that person is reading this thread right now, melodica in hand, determined to put the work in.

I think its too early for conservatoires, but would be great to be part of that tradition at some point. I think we’re still in the initial phases. Remember this instrument was only invented 60 years ago. Maybe in the future, once there’re several virtuosos and teachers out there, some good quality instruments, and a body of work to perform

I play a wooden-bodied melodica in small concerts. Like Joanna, I get people coming to me asking what this amazing instrument is. So many people have never seen one before. Although I made the wooden body as part of my experiments with melodica building, the look of it goes a long way towards being accepted by other musicians. I also play it in commercial recordings for television etc. It is considered eccentric by the studio staff, and interestingly, nearly always described as either a harmonica, accordion or concertina in any sleeve notes, so as not to put TV editors off using it!

I do think the internet’s having a positive effect. As Alan says, the videos are getting better. There’s a clear movement of musicians around the world, who are taking the instrument seriously, many of them in Japan. And recently there’s been a lovely wave of very credible recordings turning up here, which I’ve really enjoyed listening to.

I’d love to see Bjork make use of it, I think I could do an amazing collaboration with her 🙂

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