August 2009

Harmonic life lessons

By Sam Barry
Review by
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Oh Susannah, anybody can play an instrument! That’s the simple revelation made charmingly real in How to Play the Harmonica (and Other Life Lessons) by Sam Barry, a former Presbyterian minister now working for a major book publisher (and co-writing the Author Enablers column for BookPage). Barry is also a musician and music teacher who plays in and around San Francisco in the band Los Train Wreck and tours with the all-author rock band the Rock Bottom Remainders. Clearly, this isn’t his first camp “Kumbaya.”

In this little gem of a book, Barry’s pastorly reassurances loosen ties, bring out inner chickens and enable nascent musicians to let rip like Dylan and the Boss, eventually moving toward pomposity-slaying licks and writing an original blues song (because you know you have one in you). “The greatest crime of all is that we’ve stopped telling our own stories and making our own music,” Barry writes. “It’s just plain wrong.” Chapter by chapter, Barry shares memories from the embarrassments he’s had in life, along with a simple harp lesson charted out in a sidebar. It’s a whole lot more than Mel Bay. “Right now, take your harmonica and pretend you are in the Deep South late in the nineteenth century . . . Tell us a story. Make us remember how sad the world is yet how joyous life is. Take us on a journey.”

In Barry’s hands, this humble portable instrument teaches ideas like patience, letting go, tolerating failure, practice as meditation, listening to others and seeing the beauty in imperfection. “We can have new adventures at any time of life,” Barry writes. “Unfortunately, as we take on the responsibilities of adulthood, our fear of appearing silly or inept or less accomplished in the eyes of others increases and we shy away from trying anything new. We allow these concerns to dictate our behavior and miss a great deal. You don’t need anyone’s permission, so play.” 

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How To Play Harmonica

How To Play Harmonica

By Sam Barry
Gibbs Smith
ISBN 9781423605706

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