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A Harmonica History Question

23 Apr 02 - 01:42 PM (#696635)
Subject: A Harminica History Question
From: Stephen L. Rich

My friend, Bill, is a harmonica player and has been doing some research into the history and origins of the instrument. He has managed to trace it all the way back to about 3,000 B.C. (or B.C.E., if you prefer).

The earliest ancestor of the Harmonica would appear to be a device called a Sheng which resembles nothing as much as a great, bamboo pipe organ with a mouthpiece rather than a keyboard (I have a couple of pictures of Sheng-like instuments. If you're interested PM me and I'll send them along). It was invented by order of the, then, Emperor of China, Nyn Kwya. I say "by order" because emperors always have people to do these things FOR them (a lesson well learned centuries later by Thomas Edison). The order was given to help Nyn Kwya to impress a woman (evidently, being the Emperor of China wasn't enough).

Much of the material that Bill has been able to find online has been written in either Chinese or German. So, he has hit something of a stone wall. Does anyone know enough about Chinese history or folklore to answer Bill's last, remaining question?

Was the woman IMPRESSED?

Not knowing the end of the story is making him crazy and, as a result he's making me crazy(er) with it.

HELP!! Jane! Stop this crazy thing!


23 Apr 02 - 02:43 PM (#696683)
Subject: RE: A Harminica History Question
From: Wincing Devil

I always thought the Harmonica as we know it dates from about the 1820's Here's some links I found, but the don't mention if Nyn Kwya was able to play "hide the salami". Boy, talk about picky!

He:Yo, babe, how ya doon? I'm the Emporer of frickin' China.

23 Apr 02 - 11:49 PM (#697143)
Subject: RE: A Harminica History Question
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Stephen & Wincing Devil,

The Mouth Organ (we need to be clear about terms, since harmonica means 'accordion' to most European language groups) was one of a group of free-reed instruments developed, more or less independently, in Germany, France, England and Austria ... after the Europeans had time to study the free-reeds at the heart of shengs and similar instruments brought back by the Jesuits expelled from China (~ 1780s).

The 1820s saw the first: Mouth organs (European), accordions and concertinas. The subsequent 3 decades saw all sorts of elaborations to the Harmonium (via the Melophone), the beginnings of the piano accordion and the Chromatica (European chromatic button accordion) and the German elebration of their accordion-based concertina into the Bandoneon and the Chemnitzer.

Some people think it might have been better all round if the Chinese had put up with the Jesuits for a few more decades ... but ...

(And I have no idea of whether Nyn Kwya scored or not ... but since we have the sheng ... ie it wasn't chopped up and burned with its inventor ... after he had been pulled into 4 nasty lumps by draught bullocks ... we may assume he did!)

((Even thought the Chinese do tend to play it a funerals - they associate it with the phoenix and resurrection, apparently.))


Bob Bolton

24 Apr 02 - 12:08 AM (#697152)
Subject: RE: A Harminica History Question
From: greg stephens

Well wherever it came from thank god for the liferaft adrift in the north atlantic and the campfire, thank god for the red river valley and home sweet home, thank god for sonny terry

24 Apr 02 - 04:18 AM (#697256)
Subject: RE: A Harminica History Question
From: Wilfried Schaum

Don't forget the organ, nowadays mostly used in churches, while in former times they were used in households, too, for civil use, like the piano of today. Sometimes they had registers of reed pipes, and that before the Jesuits were expelled from China.


24 Apr 02 - 04:33 AM (#697264)
Subject: RE: A Harminica History Question
From: GUEST,mr happy

what's a harminica?

24 Apr 02 - 05:42 PM (#697777)
Subject: RE: A Harminica History Question
From: Stephen L. Rich

A typo

25 Apr 02 - 12:10 AM (#697999)
Subject: RE: A Harminica History Question
From: Stephen L. Rich

Thanks to all of you for the help.


25 Apr 02 - 12:56 AM (#698027)
Subject: RE: A HarmOnica History Question
From: GUEST,Canuck

Speaking of which, Stephen, here's an instance of potential "Lost thread" because of the typoo in the Subject
But it was an entertaining, informative thread!