《The Death of Harmonica Ensembles》

文章出處黃石口琴網論壇 / 作者 : Darren (歡迎轉載/但請註明出處)

Lee Shiao-Ming recently asked me why I thought that harmonica ensembles are not popular in the West. I think this is an interesting question for which I do not know the answer. So, I am going to give you my best guess right now. And, I will post this question on some English language harmonica websites and relay any answers that appear there.

First a little history, harmonica ensembles and orchestras were at one time popular in the West. Harmonica orchestras were popular into the 1930s and harmonica ensembles maintained some level of popularity until the late 1940s. Probably the last truly popular hit recorded by a harmonica ensemble in the West was “Peg O’ My Heart” [1947] by Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats. Yet, by the 1950s harmonica ensembles were basically dead in the West. Why this happened is a complex question that involves both major shifts in musical tastes and a larger cultural shift.
先來一點歷史,口琴合奏及協奏團曾經在西方非常受歡迎,口琴協奏大約到1930年代前都相當受歡迎,而合奏則到1940年代。在西方最後一張真正受歡迎的口琴合奏唱片大概是由Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats. 所錄製的“Peg O’ My Heart” [1947]。但是大約在1950年代口琴合奏就消失了,原因很複雜,包括了對音樂品味及文化的變遷。

First, the late 1940s and the 1950s saw great changes in the musical tastes of Americans. By the late ‘40s, poor migrant blacks were making their way from the deep south to Chicago and beginning to have a great impact on the urban musical scene in Chicago and other large eastern cities. The country blues that they brought with them was being updated and urbanized to match their new situation. Stylistically, the music was developing a strong sense of swing-rhythm. At the same time, instruments were beginning to be electrified and a new sound was developing – the Chicago Blues, typified by Muddy Waters and his ace harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs. The sound is typified by the hard pounding beat of the bass and drum kit, with raucous electrified guitar and harmonica. At the same time the performance styles of these Blues groups was more energetic an
wild than anything previously seen. This sound was a watershed and led directly to the rock and roll revolution of the 1950s. The early icons of rock and roll – Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis – borrowed (stole) their music and performance styles directly from these Blues stars.
首先在1940年末期及1950年代,美國人對音樂的品味有很大的改變,大約在1940年代貧窮的非裔黑人移民開始由南方遷移到芝加哥,並且開始對當地及其他的大城市的音樂產生影響,他們帶入的鄉村藍調音樂也開始改變更符合城市化的生活型態,形成了強烈的搖擺樂節奏。同時,樂器也開始電子化,例如芝加哥藍調的典型代表Muddy Waters 及一流的口琴吹奏者Little Walter Jacobs。曲風為重低音的貝斯加上鼓聲及電吉他與電口琴,這種藍調樂團表演的方式比以往更加有能量及狂野,這是一個音樂的分水嶺,並直接影響了1950年代的搖滾樂革命。早期搖滾樂的象徵Elvis Presley(貓王)及Jerry Lee Lewis 直接由這些藍調明星借用了他們的音樂及表演方式。

The influence of black musicians not only changed the beat of American music, but it also changed the tone. African music has long utilized the sounds in-between the notes, the flatted 5ths and flatted 7ths, or blue notes. For myself and most Americans now, music that lacks these tones lacks feeling – it lacks soul. The music might still be beautiful, as in classical music, but it lacks a depth of emotion. [I’m aware that this definition of what constitutes soulfulness in music is highly subjective and ethnocentric, but it accurately reflects the feelings of the majority of Westerners].

Harmonica ensembles were ill-equipped to deal with these changes. They did not have a driving rhythm section with a pounding beat. They couldn’t make their instruments whine and cry like an electrified guitar. And, the style of music played by harmonica ensembles was becoming increasingly antiquated – show tunes, light jazz, some folk melodies, etc.

At the same time, there was the development of a whole new phenomenon – youth culture. The Baby Boomers were becoming teenagers and looking for music that was distinct from that of their parents. Rock fit the bill. Rock was youthful, dynamic, cool and featured young energetic performers doing crazy things on stage, witness Elvis’ gyrating hips and Jerry Lee Lewis practically having sex with his piano on stage. The type of showmanship expected of performers was changing. People wanted dynamic performers. Harmonica ensembles with members in matching suits and ties, standing statically on stage while performing old-style songs were doomed. They came to be seen as a throw-back to a long gone era of performing. They were not cool. Of course as time went on, rock performances only became more outlandish.
在這同時,新的年輕文化也正在形成,戰後嬰兒潮在那時正值青春的世代,尋求的是與他們父母截然不同的音樂,搖滾樂正符合他們的需求,年輕、具生命力、酷,一些年輕活力的表演者在台上表演瘋狂的舉動,像是貓王搖擺臀部及Jerry Lee Lewis 一些帶性暗示的動作,表演的型態已然改變,人們想看充滿活力的表演。口琴合奏團嚴肅的表演過時的音樂已不再受歡迎。

Harmonica ensembles might have been able to change their arrangements to keep up with changing tastes, but they could not generate “coolness.” (It is hard to imagine a bass harmonica player, dressed in spandex pants, with no shirt, heavily tattooed, leaping off a 2 meter high bank of speakers, or lighting his harmonica on fire, etc.)
口琴合奏也許有機會改變表演方式來保有一席之地,但他們無法作出 所謂“酷” 的感覺,(很難想像一個低音口琴吹奏者穿著緊身褲、光著上身、全身刺青,在台上跳躍,或把口琴點火的樣子)

Fortunately for young people interested in the harmonica at the time, there was a role model of how the harmonica could be used to play these new types of music. And, he was the personification of hip – Little Walter Jacobs. And thus Western interest in the harmonica shifted from ensembles to the diatonic harmonica.
幸好當時對年輕的口琴喜好者而言,有一個偶像可以示範如何用口琴吹奏新型態的音樂,他就是嘻皮的象徵Little Walter Jacobs,於是西方口琴吹奏者也由合奏型態轉變至全音階口琴。

It is a bit of a shame, as a whole genre of music has essentially disappeared from the landscape of Western music with the death of harmonica ensembles in the West. Of course I know there are still a couple of ensembles actively playing in the West, but they are relegated to the status of novelty acts. 很可惜,口琴合奏的型態及音樂已完全在西方消失,當然,我知道在西方仍有少數口琴合奏者仍活躍於西方的舞台上,但不可諱言的是他們以被歸類於非主流的音樂型態了。