The Harmonica Man, Free Hohner Harmonicas and more at Make Music Madison


By Michael Popke from

Make Music Madison debuted on last year's summer solstice as an extension of a global movement begun in France in 1982, when the "Fete de la Musique" became a national musical holiday. Thirty-two years later, local talent is celebrated every summer solstice in more than 700 cities around the world. Madison's event is the only one in Wisconsin, Mastin says, and the second largest in terms of performances -- more than 370, up 100 from last year -- in North America, behind only Make Music New York.

One of the highlights is bound to be an 11 a.m. gig on the Capitol's North Hamilton entrance sidewalk by DeWayne Keyes. Known as "The Harmonica Man," Keyes will reprise his act from last year's celebration by distributing 100 free Hohner harmonicas to members of the crowd and teaching them how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

"We're going to see if we can teach people on the spot again," says Keyes, who gives private harmonica lessons, teaches harmonica at Madison College, performs regularly at assisted-living facilities and community centers, and will oversee a one-week harmonica program for kids ages 6 to 12 at the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center in August. "Teaching people on the street two songs isn't as easy as it sounds. But it's ethereal to hear 100 harmonicas playing in unison. Where else are you going to hear that?"

Accompanying Keyes will be 8-year-old Sean Hill, one of the Harmonica Man's star pupils. He began playing a toy harmonica at age 4, took his first lesson at 6 and will perform his debut solo gig during Make Music Madison at the Gardens independent living complex at 6:30 p.m.

Sean's short set will include performances of such traditional favorites as "FrÃre Jacques," "Oh! Susanna," "You Are My Sunshine" and blues riffs that Keyes taught him. Those riffs excite Sean the most, and you can see it on his face when he plays: "They're fun and challenging, and I like things that are fun and challenging," he says.

"The effects of music can be magical," Keyes explains. "A number of youngsters will take lessons, maybe on piano or violin, and then they'll move on. But I've seen others who play their instrument as if they're playing a videogame, and that's nice to see. Sean is starting to go in that direction and attack it. Right now, blues for an 8-year-old is too much homework or having to go to bed early. Wait 'til he gets his heart broken; he'll bring people to tears with his music then."

Mastin agrees with the music-as-magic analogy. Her son had a learning disability as a boy and found solace in the violin. "Performing was a way he could see himself as complete," she says. "It allows for self-expression and is incredibly powerful."

"I really didn't think a child could take harmonica lessons," says Janet McCormick, Sean Hill's mother and a third-grade teacher at Elvehjem Elementary School. "But when he started to shine on the harmonica, his self-esteem went up."

Read the full article here.

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