I received an email from my friend Colin Parratt asking if I knew anything about a bench which his friend Martin had come across. I had to confess it didn’t know anything about it so he sent Martin’s photo to me. Martin lives in Folkestone (UK) and was the drummer in the barn dance band Colin used to play in.
The image looked like a bench based on a 7 hole harmonica. Across the back of the seat there is an inscription “Where Souls Meet”. The back of the bench was a strange shape so I decided to find out more about it.
There was an inscription on the side of the bench so I asked Colin to send me a picture of it so we could see what it said.
When I received Colin’s photo things became clearer. The plaque on the side read,
In memory of Arikę
Musician, visual artist, teacher, therapist, inspirational blues harp player, father, grandfather and a proud black man.
The website belongs to a charity, Origins Untold, a volunteer arts organisation presenting music, poetry, visual arts, fashion and food inspired and created by people of the African diaspora.
The website shows an event was held 12th June 2022, the second anniversary of Arike‘s death, to unveil. a Blues Harp bench, designed by Pete Phillips and made by Cut Once Woodworks. The group walked from the Bandstand on the Leas in Folkestone, down the Zig Zag path to the Lower Coastal Park, where the bench is situated.
Origins Untold was founded in 2015 by the late, great Arike (aka Stan Grant), who sadly passed away on 12 June 2020 after a tragic accident.
Arike’s vision for the organisation was to broaden and change the conversation about race and about members of the African diaspora. To honour this, it is committed to breaking stereotypes, making unseen connections and unearthing buried histories, acknowledging the contributions that Black people have made to the history of this region and to its present.
In memory of Arikẹ, founder of Origins Ontold – 1949-2020
“Whatever a Black man can do to remind himself that he is fully human, to do it and to keep doing it… I don’t think we need to do more than that…it is just to remind ourselves that we are fully human.”
Martin Häffner has dedicated his life to educating people about the history of the harmonica, especially the Hohner harmonica company. He has set up a museum, taken the story around the world as a mobile exhibition, written books and led guided tours around Trossingen, Germany, the home of the original Hohner harmonica factory.
This detailed history was co-written with highly regarded harmonica artist and author Steve Baker. He has been a consultant to the Hohner company since 1987 and has been able to gain a unique perspective on the company story. Thanks also to Diana Rosenfelder from the German Harmonica Museum for help in writing this blog page.
Martin was born October 7, 1958, in Schönau near Heidelberg. He graduated from high school in Heidelberg in 1977, and studied history and theology in Tübingen and Vienna until 1986 when he started work as an assistant at the State Museum of Technology and Work in Mannheim.
In 1987 the Hohner Harmonica Collection was sold to the state of Baden-Württemberg as part of a company rescue deal and Martin was commissioned to write a report on it. To complete his work on Hohner, its history and the Hohner collection and to get all the necessary information, Martin was employed by the Hohner company on 1 January 1988. Three years later he became an employee of “Trägerverein Deutsches Harmonikamuseum” (Sponsoring Association of the German Harmonica Museum).
Steve Baker joined Hohner as a consultant in 1987 and when they met there for the first time, Martin led him up into the cavernous attics in Bau V, the accordion works which today houses both the new Harmonica Museum and the Hohner Conservatory and has now been beautifully renovated.
He showed Steve what appeared to be literally tons of unidentifiable stuff, packed in dusty cartons and piled up all over the place without any apparent semblance of order. It looked as though the custodians of Hohner’s company history had simply dumped it all up there and forgotten about it.
On closer inspection this jumble of relics revealed itself to be a huge collection of historic instruments, documents and advertising material relating to all kinds of aspects of the commercial production of free reed instruments, the largest of its kind in the world. As Steve wrote “Thank heavens the state of Baden Württemberg thought it was worth saving!”
In cooperation with the town of Trossingen, Hohner had agreed to co-finance a modest museum to house the Hohner Collection in the annex of the actual town museum on the high street. Martin began sorting through the vast piles of artefacts and arranged for the most interesting looking articles to be transferred to the new premises. Sifting through a century’s worth of unsorted leftovers was a huge task. Not all of it was of value and some was literally junk, but there were many real gems as well.
Martin had hoped the museum would be ready for the World Harmonica Championships in Trossingen in 1989 but they did not make it. Hohner’s CEO at that time, Dr. Johann Schmid, decided that he wanted to present every festival visitor with a free harmonica from the historic collection. Fortunately Martin was able to intervene and prevented him from giving away any of the really valuable historic instruments. He selected several hundred pieces which he reckoned the museum could do without and every visitor did indeed receive one.
The museum opened to the public in 1991 with over 25,000 harmonica exhibits in time for Hohner’s second World Harmonica Festival, and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. I was fortunate to visit the original museum in 2001. Lots of exhibits were displayed in small rooms with steep stairs. Martin set about producing programs of exhibitions and concerts to publicise the museum and raise money for its development. He took some of them around the world.
When the old Hohner (1911) factory buildings were restored and refurbished for small business use in 2016 the harmonica museum raised the money needed to move the exhibits a short distance to new premises in BAU V.
This provided a large open, bright, space on one floor of the building with more opportunities to display items and documents from the archive for the visitors to the museum.
Other features included office space, a shop, a small cinema and a flexible space for presentations and music performances.
Specially designed units were built to exhibit the most interesting instruments in a structured way, as well as thoroughly documenting the development of the industry.
Martin ensured that the earlier harmonica and accordion companies from the Trossingen area and Klingenthal were featured as well as other Hohner instruments like keyboards.
The permanent exhibition gives an overview of the whole sector including the Hohner family and the many other companies involved, both in Württemberg, Saxony, Vienna and elsewhere.
It is important to remember that Hohner once employed 5000 people, and swallowed up all its regional competitors to become an international household name, so the social component in terms of local history was very significant and is treated accordingly.
Martin was initially attracted to the harmonica by the beautiful packaging and innovative marketing introduced by the first Hohner generation, and a lot of space is devoted to this. Much of the advertising material is well preserved and the exhibition includes numerous examples. The strategies which Hohner developed later became more widespread, but in the 1880s it was not always usual to adapt one and the same product to meet the needs of different national markets worldwide. Hohner was a true pioneer in this area, and one of Martin’s most important goals was the documentation of both the means by which Hohner’s remarkable commercial success was achieved, and its impact on the social history of Trossingen and the region as a whole. It’s pretty amazing to think that within the space of a single generation, this isolated Black Forest village became the hub of a worldwide commercial empire, a development which alone is worthy of the interest of historians.
Another more controversial aspect of Martin Häffner’s work was his documentation of the history of the Hohner company during the Third Reich. As a historian, Martin felt unable to ignore the documentary and photographic evidence of its involvement in the war effort and extensive use of forced labour which was preserved in the Hohner Collection. The permanent exhibition shows a range of photos depicting the factory and its workers during the Nazi era, as well as historical instruments from both world wars. He didn’t presume to judge, but felt duty bound to document what had happened.
Martin’s hero is Matthias Hohner (1833-1902), and he takes visitors on tours around Trossingen to show where Matthias and his family lived and worked.
Occasionally the ghost of Matthias can still be seen talking to people in the museum about the company he created.
The existence of a museum like this is always dependent on its financing and the German Harmonica & Accordion Museum is no exception. Though both Hohner and the town of Trossingen continue to contribute to its upkeep, the purchase of the new premises and their renovation and maintenance would not have been possible without the generous support of the board of trustees and the numerous members of the support association. Many musicians have also been happy to donate their services in support of the museum. Today it offers both a comprehensive documentation of the history of free reed instruments, and an instructive and entertaining view of the people who both made and played them. If you can’t get to the museum you can learn a lot from the videos and books which Martin has researched and written or supported. You can find more about them in the Museum shop.
Martin Häffner has devoted the greater part of his working life to collecting and sharing the history of the harmonica and anyone who has more than a passing interest these instruments has every reason to visit and be grateful. We have been friends for about 20 years and I help at museum when I can.
Martin will retire in 2024 and he will find it hard not to stay close to the museum to help who ever takes over. I am sure, however, that he will probably have even more time for his other passion – enjoying long distance railway journeys.
The Museum charity receives no funding from the State of Baden-Württemberg and so one if the most important activities for Martin and his successor is and will continue to be is fund raising. Martin has established a fantastic resource for lovers of the harmonica and anyone who can should visit it and support it financially.
One of the pleasures of being Chairman of the NHL (now HarmonicaUK) for a long time was that I was able to meet and become friends with the international harmonica players who travelled to our annual festivals via London. We live about 30 mins from Heathrow airport so we were able to provide the artists with accommodation for a couple of days to relax and get rid of jet-lag before driving them down to the festival in Bristol. They stayed in our spare bedroom, vacant since our children flew the nest and set up their own homes.
I took all this for granted until this humorous Facebook post by Rob Paparozzi brought it all back.
Many of the other artists who had stayed with us joined in with their comments. How I wish we had kept a visitors’ book, but this was all so informal and unplanned.
Two names missing from this virtual visitors’ book are Greg Szlapcynski (now Greg Zlap), and Rick Epping.
A mere 242 years after the American Revolution and my poor Heart has been captured under ‘British Rule’ I was forced to stay in the lovely home of Roger & Jo Trobridge and take walks in the stoic and quaint town of Maidenhead then made to eat large hearty and delicious home cooked meals. Forced to sleep in a bed previously shared by other Harmonica slouches like Adam Gussow, JoeFilisko, Antonio Serrano, Will Galison, Peter Madcat Ruth and some tall guy named Howard Levy! Then I had to succumb to and peruse a treasure trove of rare vintage videos, books, LPs amazing Harmonica and eclectic Music Memorabilia in their lovely home compiled by Roger who is one of the FINEST music/art archivists in the world. Even forced to sit down at Jo’s lovely Kawai Grand and play old Randy Newman songs.
Then, shuffled off to the historic town in the Southwest of Britain, Bristol and made to perform with consummate pros and then hang around with the nicest warmest blokes and ladies in the country, while staying at a 5 star hotel.
Finally, having to endure 1st class upgrades and hot roasted nuts while in flight to and from the USA. How much torture can a man endure? Help! I’ve been captured (and I loved it). But I think the Queen has found out about all this mess and has had quite enough of this ‘Paparozzi dude’, so today I will be shipped back to the States.
Kidding aside. Thank You Roger Trobridge, Jo, the National Harmonica League, Ben Hewlett, David Hambley, Dave Taylor, Phil Leiwy, Shirish, oops almost forgot Walter John Davies and all the others I forgot to mention and of course it’s lovely membership and my friend Peter Hewitt for making me feel so at home in the UK and inviting me to share music and SMILES with you all this past week.
until next time … – Rob Paparozzi – (The Italian-American Prisoner of Love)
• Joe Filisko – Slouch I am!
• Robbie Kondor – Well deserved treatment, even as traitors go.
• Tony Perry – The Jersey Boy!
• Mary Ellen O’Neil Davis – Well if anyone can endure such torture you can do it. Glad they got sick of you & sent you back
• Walter John Davies – We can reveal that the NHL is actually funded by the British Secret Service as part of a covert charm offensive against you ungrateful colonials. Didn’t think it strange that we had a trusty American political prisoner working on the reception desk? We’ll get you all back serving the monarch yet.
◦ Rob Paparozzi – it all comes back! Thanks Walter!
• Richard Hunter – Clearly a case for the International Criminal Court. Thank God you were able to survive, escape, and squeeze in a big performance!
• John Posada – You poor guy…I don’t know how you can even stand it.
• Max Morden – That’s awesome…
• Greg Heumann – Sorry for your troubles, Rob. I’m sure things will look up soon.
◦ Rob Paparozzi – Woe is me.
• Nicholas Coppola – I am having them load the plane with cash to pay the ransom….. Don’t worry we will have you out of there soon……lol it sure is beautiful when a plan comes together
• William Galison – to you and Roger & Jo. I found their village and the walks around it, one of the most pleasant moments of my my life. Sorry about the bed I slept in. I hope it had time to air out!
• Peter Madcat Ruth – I was “forced” to stay there too…
◦ Rob Paparozzi – Ahhh I knew I’d forget another Major Dude!,-)
• Howard Levy – England swings like a pendulum do…
• Adam Gussow – I didn’t realize that we’d all shared that same bed, but I’m happy to know that I’m in that sort of elite company! I love Roger and Jo.
• Roger Trobridge – You are making it sound like a house of ill repute – we take in everyone. Antonio Serrano Dalmas also stayed with us. I wish I had taped you all playing in the music room…….
• Houndog Mc Gateley – The playing in the bar at the hotel till the wee small hours on Sunday night was always a treat for me, some great guys and memories. Can’t say I missed it this year, my wife would kill me, we spent the time in a London for our 50th Anniversary!!!
◦ Rob Paparozzi – We missed you Houndog but Family comes 1st and that is a major celebration my friend! Big Congrats and Many more
◦ Houndog Mc Gateley – Rob Paparozzi thanks Rob, next time eh
• Antonio Serrano Dalmas – I remember transcribing Larry´s Gavotte in that room!!
• John Valent – Enjoy the magic!
• Richard Smith – Nice tribute Rob Paparozzi. I think it`s true that Roger is the only member of the NHL who has never played a harmonica….. LOL
Summary – For over 30 years Walter Buchinger taught harmonica at the Musikschule in Laakirchen, Austria. He took groups of children to perform at festivals and concerts in Europe, Israel and the USA.
Walter was born in 1943 in Laakirchen. He learned to play harmonica and accordion and in 1963/64 he attended a seminar for music teachers in what is now the Hohner Konservatorium, in Trossingen, Germany. In 1973 Walter was teaching accordion in the local music school when he was asked to teach a harmonica course to beginners. He had no experience of teaching harmonica, but with the help of the Austrian Harmonica Association, Helmuth Herold, a professional chromatic player from Trossingen, Germany, agreed to do it. Helmuth taught beginners and advance students twice a year until the early 1990s. When Helmuth was no longer able to do it, Walter took over the classes.
The Landesmusikschule (LMS) was established in 1971. The teaching of harmonica (Mundharmonika) in the school was officially recognised in 1975 and classes started with four pupils. More soon followed. Other teachers wanted to learn to play and soon they had a harmonica group. In 1984 the current music school building was opened.
In 1985, the first school orchestra (Harmonicachoir) was formed. It had 20-25 teenage members and was led by Walter Buchinger and Margareta Rathner. The repertoire included original music for harmonica, classical and well known International popular music.
Soon they were playing concerts away from the school, beginning with one on Austrian TV. Their international appearances started with a harmonica festival in Innsbruck (Austria) in 1986, and in 1987 they performed at the Hohner 130th anniversary festival. Later that year they appeared in the first World Harmonica Championships in Jersey (Channel Islands), organised by Jim Hughes. They won the youth competitions (group and orchestra) and played in the evening concerts. This brought them worldwide recognition.
In 1988 they performed at the festival in Helmond (Holland). In 1989 they held an international festival in Laakirchen and were invited to the first of the new Hohner World Harmonica Festivals in Trossingen, Germany. They continued to take part in this four yearly festival until 2005.
The concerts continued with one in Beer Sheva (Israel) in 1990. In 1991 they released an LP containing pieces of music from their performances called ‘Our Music– Our World‘ (Unsere Musik – Unsere Welt).
1991 also brought the biggest journey for this group of children and adults when they took part in the SPAH/IHO festival in Detroit, (USA) again winning prizes in the solo, group and band categories.
Festivals followed in Portugal (1993), Austria (1994), Trossingen (1993,1996, 2001, 2005), and the IHO Millennium Festival in Bournemouth, UK (2001) where they again won many of the prizes and featured in the concerts.
When pupils left the music school many went on to form their own groups and solo careers.
Maria Wolfsberger – World Champion (1991-1993)
Trio Mahabri – Maria Wolfsberger, Johann Ortner/Thomas Stockhammer, Brigitte Laska (1989)
Vigorous Quartett/Quintett – Mara Bachlechner, Anna Waldl / Martha Kreutzer, Judith Kreutzer, Marlene Hummelbrunner
Walter stopped teaching at the Music School in 2003 after 30 years in charge.
His last major performance with the harmonica orchestra was at the World Harmonica Festival in Trossingen, Germany, in 2005, where he conducted a group of 60 young and adult harmonica players.
Some harmonica teaching is still going on in the Music School led by Nicola Feichtinger and Olivia Winzer They are good teachers so the golden years may come again – we will see.
Walter is now in his 80s and enjoying his retirement. He continues to play with a group of senior players and has taught himself how to play the Chordomonica which was developed by Cham-ber Huang because of the chords it can play. With a growing family, house and garden he says he is the ‘chief cook and bottle washer‘ – a phrase he learned from his old friend Jim Hughes.
Walter always insists that the orchestra was a group activity with many school staff and parents providing help and support, especially on their many visits to foreign counties. There are far too many people to mention by name but please accept his thanks to all of you that you that contributed.
Here are the tracks from the LP released by Walter in 1991 of the orchestra playing some of their favourite light music and popular pieces.
Here are a couple of videos from the World Harmonica Festival in Jersey (UK) in 1987.
This is the full performance of the Harmonica Society of Laakirchen, Austria, in the Evening Concert at the IHO Millenium Festival in Bournemouth (UK) in 2000, organised by John Walton.
The orchestra was composed of children from the music school, parents, helpers and teachers from the town.
Toots died in 2016 but he would have been 100 if he had lived until 2022. This year there was a series of events including concerts in Brussels and around the world to celebrate his life and music. You can see more on the event website – 100 years of Toots Thielemans .
I love his music and enjoyed his enthusiastic personality which came across in his interviews.
Here is a great edit from the many conversations he recorded over his long career as whistler, guitarist and one of the best harmonica players. The compilation was put together by a Belgian DJ, Nico Kanakaris, who goes by the name of BlueNotes (Facebook).
Here, Julian Joseph and Julian Jackson talk about Toots Thielemans in the Jazz Legends series broadcast by the BBC in the early 2000s. Julian Jackson is one of the top UK Jazz harmonica players and a session musician. He was been inspired by and had visited Toots. They play a number of recordings by Toots.