harmonicas, and a reharmonisation of “Foreign Lander” by Tim O’Brien

By , January 15, 2011 2:38 pm

How do three music addicts survive when attempting to travel for 25 days without a musical instrument? Answer: they cheat. I caved in on day 3 and bought a harmonica in Kuala Lumpur:

Despite being sold as a “chromatic” harmonica, it could only manage a rough approximation to three octaves of C major. Also, the holes are in a different place for the top octave, which meant every time I attempted the “do re mi” major scale, I accidentally finished with “… fa sol la ti MI” followed swiftly by a profanity, and consequent howls of laughter from Corinna. It cost very little and sounded progressively worse the more I practiced it, although I only place the blame partially on the harmonica for that. In case you don’t believe me, here’s the proof:

(Now seems a good time to mention that if you haven’t already seen Shane singing 5 octaves on the piano, go and watch it immediately.)

Eli followed suit shortly after, although he managed to buy a harmonica which was not only roughly in tune with mine, but even stayed in tune with itself! He also proved to be a quicker and more dedicated student than myself. Nevertheless, by the time we reached Xmas day in Bangkok, we were able to give reasonably credible renditions of the harmonica duet version of Jingle Bells to our unsuspecting families over Skype.

Corinna sensibly eschewed* such a crude instrument in favour, sorry, favor of something much sweeter – her voice. She also steered us very gently away from the harmonicas towards singing too, although with my range being comparable to Shane’s, and Eli’s “occasionally unstable” falsetto, I’m not sure that was quite as sensible.

Anyway, I digress. We learnt Tim O’Brien’s beautiful song “Foreign Lander”, and figured out some harmony and a bass line, which by the time of the final performance with banjo in Changi airport actually sounded pretty good! However my jazz tendencies mean that I sometimes get the urge to take something simple and beautiful and do evil corrupt things to it. So when I got back to London I reharmonised it as follows:

(If you know how to play the piano properly, please ignore the fact that I don’t …)

[*] One of the many running themes of the trip was “words you write/understand but never say” – for me ‘eschewed’ falls into this category. ‘Sidewalk’ used to too, but after 25 days with two Americans, I found it magically popping out of my mouth. Eli came up with ‘idyllic’, Corinna with ‘laviscious’ and ‘ephemeral’, and there were several others I will need help remembering …

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