Reply To: Hohner history

Alan Brinton

Manji Suzuki, the long time developer of Suzuki harmonicas, bought a Hohner button model, probably the soprano HM-900, in a department store in Osaka in 1959. He referred to this instrument as a “vertical harmonica,” and subsequently decided to develop a model with a piano style keyboard. His first model of that appeared in 1961. He called it a “keyboard harmonica” and gave it the brand name of the Suzuki “Melodion”.

Various early descriptive labels were given to the Hohner button models, for example “keyboard flute” (though “flute doesn’t seem to make sense at all). The early Piano 26 and 27 had the same basic configuration as the button models, an instrument played into the mouthpiece, vertically or at a downward slant, like a clarinet or saxophone. When you settled on “keyboard harmonica” as your generic term for melodicas, I thought that was inspired in the light of the Suzuki developments and the fact that “keyboard harmonica” is the Japanese generic term for the melodion, pianica, etc. So I’m suggesting “vertical melodica” as a term for the Hohner button and first generation Piano 26 and 27. In contrast, the Japanese and later Hohner melodicas with a tube tend to be held in a horizontal position, though many play them as you do in a vertical position or like a horn. But I’m just trying out terminology and wanting to distinguish the earlu Piano models from the later. The Japanese piano style melodicas are typically shown in advertisements in a horizontal position, for example on a desk, being played with a tube by children. I guess we might refer to this as the “horizontal style” of playing, not your preferred method we know, as contrasted with your “vertical” style of playing. The vertical style is of course more conducive to thinking of the melodica as primarily a wind instrument rather than a keyboard. When I got my first melodica, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was the better way for me to think of it, and that I shouldn’t be trying to play it like a piano.

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