Museum’s harmonica collection complete ­ almost

Museum's harmonica collection complete � almost By Bob Karolevitz The Alan G. Bates Harmonica Collection at the National Music Museum in Vermillion stirred up lots of memories for me.

The former Shrine to Music has thousands of instruments in its treasury ��including Bill Clinton�s saxophone and B.B. King's guitar ��but it was the mouth organ exhibit which caught my eye.

Right away I thought of the time when Johnny Neuendorf and I trudged down to Radio Station WNAX from Sacred Heart School to enter the Amateur Hour there.

Johnny had his guitar and I had my harmonica � which is the reason the Bates Collection fascinated me so much. We were a couple of grade school kids from Yankton who had visions of stardom in the middle of the Dirty Thirties when neither of us came from a family of means.

I can still remember the announcer � John Peter DePagter ��who welcomed us to the air waves. I think we played Strawberry Roan but I�m not sure. We must have rehearsed a bit; however, I don't recall that either.

We didn't win, but the fact that we were heard all the way to Texas was glory enough. After all, Lawrence Welk started on the same station. But so did "Harmonica Dutch," and I never heard of him again.

I still have a harmonica in my office, but I don�t play it much anymore. It takes much wind, and I don�t know whether to blow out or suck in to hit a particular note.

Getting back to the Bate's accumulation, there must have been more than 70 different kinds of harmonicas in various sizes, from the miniature Japanese models to 10-hole cane varieties which you could play when you weren�t using the walking stick for its intended purpose.

On display was a Blues Harp, owned and played by Stevie Wonder. There were also souvenirs from Jerry Murad's Harmonicats and Borrah Minnevitch�s Rascals. However, there was nothing there to remember the Neuendorf/Karolevitz concert!

The museum has eight galleries for displaying the instruments of Antonio Stadiveri, the Amatis, Adoplhe Sax and other � but the harmonicas are "second cousins" relegated to the hallway. Still, that doesn't detract from their importance in the music world. Where would Nashville be without them?

While Martha Hohner of Trossingen, Germany, gets the most coverage in the Bates Collection, there are many other manufacturers � mostly from Germany � in the exhibit. For instance, there is a harmonica inside a wooden banana made by F.A. Rauner of Klingenthal, who didn't know whether to play or eat. He also produced "Babe's Musical Bat," a souvenir of the Bambino�s 1927 performance with the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of numerous memorial pieces like the "Aero Band" harmonica dedicated to Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

Andreas Koch � also from Trossingen where he was Hohner�s chief competitor until Hohner bought him out in 1929 � made a bell harmonica, a trumpet organ, a "Gold-Fisch" instrument and a kid's toy model in the shape of a cat, all on display at the world-class tourist attraction.

Included, too, is a "Musical Cigar" (complete with ash), a Roosevelt Rough Rider model (commemorating Teddy Roosevelt's campaign in Cuba in 1898) and even one used by a politician as a campaign gimmick.

I didn't know there were so many different kinds of harmonicas, and the Bates Collection has them all � not one of which played Strawberry Roan on WNAX!

� 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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