They come together mostly every other Monday to indulge in
their love of harmonica.
But, while the group of more than a hundred players — men
and women, ages 10 to 93 — share an appreciation for the mouth
organ, their playing styles are diverse, including everything
from blues to classical.
At 7 p.m. in room 103 of the Community Church of Glen Rock
last night, more than twenty members of the Garden State Harmonica
Club joined to have fun and provide a home to all interested
in helping to keep the tradition of the mouth organ alive.
Founded in Hackensack by local musician George Osterman in
1971, the club is now run by Valerie Redler, a former New
York City teacher, who has been credited by her fellow members
for reinvigorating the club and bringing in new faces. Over
40 people have joined in the past year alone, including players
who sing and play the guitar alongside the harmonica. “Sometimes
these guys keep playing until 10:30,” said Redler. “You just
can't get them out of here.”
Redler has been attending group meetings for over ten years.
“I was always interested and I'd just sit back, relax and
enjoy it.” When the club needed someone with leadership experience
to keep the group together, Redler stepped in. She's been
president for three years and enjoys her role. “It's like
organizing a lesson plan for each month.”
Some of the senior members, along with Redler, see the popularity
of the harmonica fading fast.
“In China they teach harmonica in the schools, and we teach
the recorder,” said Redler. “It would be great if we could
get those little harmonicas in the schools and train teachers
how to teach the basics.”
With the focus on preserving the tradition of playing the
harmonica, a few of the local members have created a group,
the Garden State Harmonica Club Ensemble, which plays shows
at veterans hospitals, senior centers, libraries and town
parks, along with being open to other performing venues. Select
members also play occasionally at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair
to help promote the club.
“It started out with just a few members,” said member Frank
Grova, “and then mushroomed into what you might call a national
thing. People came from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York,
and as far down as Texas.” Soon after the expansion of the
club, they began putting on annual festivals where members
from across the country, and even members from Europe and
Canada would join to perform. The club's 39th annual festival
takes place November 3-5.
Grova, a 39-year veteran, and Phil Caltabellotta, a member
for 36 years, are a few of the clubs longest standing members.
Both men also play professionally with their group, “The Melody
“A lot of great players are gone that played in harmonica
ensembles where you had chromatic lead, chord, and bass harmonica,”
said Caltabellotta. “It's a lost art in this country.”
The meeting gave Redler a chance to present a certificate
of appreciation to member Bob Beck, who currently runs a course
about how to read music. It also provided time for an open
mic event: Grova, playing the lead, and Caltabellotta, who
puffed on a 24-inch chord harmonica, began the festivities
for the night with “Lady of Spain.”
When the men returned to their seats, two of the youngest
members performed “Heart of Gold,” by Neil Young. Sean Kennedy,
wearing a green headband and tie-dye sneakers, played the
harmonica and sang. Evan Brooke, wrapped in a hooded sweatshirt,
provided the guitar. Before the first chorus finished, the
entire audience was tapping their feet and playing along.
The next meeting of the Garden State Harmonica Club will
be on April 18 at the Community Church of Glen Rock at 354