11th Harmonica Masters Workshops 2016 by festival director Steve Baker


11th Harmonica Masters Workshops 2016: a personal retrospective by festival director Steve Baker

When I initiated the first Harmonica Masters Workshops in 2003, nobody could gave guessed that the event would still be going, stronger than ever, in 2016. Though there have been some changes over the years, we've had a consistent core team of instructors since 2006 and the concept has been there from the start:

The idea of the HMW is to provide a unique learning experience with absolutely top-line instructors for (mainly blues diatonic) harmonica players, in a location which has played a pivotal role in the development of the instrument for nearly 160 years. As well as playing in class, there are many opportunities for students to take part in sessions, from informal jams to onstage performance with professional accompaniment. The remarkable thing about this event is that it offers players the chance to meet, learn from, hang out and jam with world-renowned harmonica artists for four days, united by their love of the instrument. The community is small but very supportive and people are generally more than willing to share.

This year was no exception and with 147 students we broke all attendance records. Players from 15 different countries descended on the normally quiet town of Trossingen and turned it into Harmonica Central for five days of music and good times. We have many regulars who come back every year and it's a real pleasure to witness their ongoing musical development. This time there were also an unprecedented number of new participants of all ages.

We had two nights of sessions on Wednesday and Thursday in the Kesselhaus, the former Hohner factory power station. Starting off acoustically with Joe Filisko on the floor, things later moved to the stage with accompaniment from Chris Rannenberg and Eric Noden. I run the onstage session with the assistance of Robert Koch and a stream of excellent players rocked the house until after midnight.

The concerts on Friday and Saturday featured a great band with Gaz (bass), Kai Strauss (guitar), Bernhard Eggers (drums) and Chris Rannenberg (piano). I opened the show on Friday with a bunch of new original material which the guys did a great job of learning on the fly, then Joe Filisko & Eric Noden gave a fine performance of their very own brand of acoustic blues. Later Antonio Serrano (who had to leave the next day to perform with Chaka Khan, standing in for Stevie Wonder) gave a short spontaneous performance which made it clear why he's regarded as one of the finest contemporary chromatic harmonicists. The show on Saturday began with a beautiful performance from Marko Jovanovic and singer/guitarist Ryan Donohue, followed by a rocking set from Brazilian artist Alex Rossi. David Barrett then demonstrated his mastery of West Coast blues harmonica before inviting all instructors up on stage to join the band for the Grande Finale.

Despite the large number of participants, a relaxed and joyous atmosphere prevailed. Thanks go to Michaela Kitzke and all at the Hohner Conservatory for the great organisation and to the team at Hohner Musical Instruments for their invaluable support. We look forward to welcoming players from all over the world to the next Harmonica Masters Workshops from October 31st - November 4th 2018.