Reply To: Improving the perception of the melodica

Alan Brinton

Perceptive comments, Melodica-Me. When a musician on stage pulls out a melodica for an occasional number, it always gets a rise from the audience.

I am not a professional musician, nor even a performer, though occasionally I get to play with one informally. I may be the only member here who identifies as an “intermediate” player in my profile. By profession I’m an academic philosopher. On questions such as this one, I’m inclined to defer to professionals. But there is one comment I made earlier to which I’d like to return, which was an expression of skepticism about the distinction between what is and what isn’t a “real” musical instrument.

One source of my doubt is Hermeto Pascoal, for whom everything is a musical instrument — a glass of beer, a pool of water, even his own beard. He seems oblivious to the distinction, or maybe he’s mocking it. We know Hermeto is a serious professional musician and composer. My other source of doubt is folk traditions and the music of indigenous and other relatively isolated cultures, in which, while there may be something akin to our professional musicians (as distinguished from popular musicians), everybody learns to sing and/or play an instrument, and performance anxiety as we know it seems hardly to exist. Here in the U.S., we all know about the music of Appalachia, and we should know more about the musical cultures of our indigenous peoples. My thinking has also been influenced by Kenny Werner’s book, Effortless Mastery, which I read when I first took up the melodica, and also by a recent visit to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

None of this is meant to undercut or diminish the very real concerns that members are addressing in this thread, which have to do with respectability and recognition of our instrument. We all know that Hermeto’s beard or a cross-cut saw isn’t quite the same kind of thing as a piano or a violin. Still, when the Creation was completed and Adam named the birds of the sky, he didn’t name the musical instruments. Musical instruments are created, to be sure, but what makes something a musical instrument is its intended or actual use. To follow up on one of Oscar’s points, I’m confident that the actual use of the melodica as a “serious” or “real” musical instrument is what will make it one.

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