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Sounds of Music : Hundreds of Harmonica Players Blow Their Stuff at Anaheim Convention

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Wailing sounds of hundreds of harmonicas wafted from the conference rooms of the Grand Hotel in Anaheim.

It was the music of 250 members of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica, meeting this weekend for their first convention in the West.

There were harmonica bands. Harmonica combos. Harmonica seminars. Harmonica jam sessions.

Stan Pendleton, 77, a blind harmonica player from Santa Barbara, entertained. Charlie Carter, 70, of Los Angeles played the harmonica with his nose. He also played four harmonicas simultaneously, three inside and one outside his mouth.

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Charlie is a large man. He is 5 feet 11 and weighs 250 pounds. He says his stomach is filled with harmonicas he has swallowed accidentally while playing four at a time.

Vincent Periandri, 61, and two buddies, known as the Trio San Jose, took time out from playing funerals, weddings and clubs to get together with other harmonica players who came from all over the United States and Canada.

Some, like Bernie Kittay, 62, an Inglewood realtor, played popular songs, folk tunes, country and classical music on harmonicas as tiny as an inch long, a four-hole model with eight notes. Others played two-foot-long harmonicas.

“Harmonicas are good for the heart and lungs,” insisted Kittay, who has been playing since he was a boy. “Playing a harmonica expands and exercises your lungs, strengthens your heart. This is one of the only musical instruments you can carry in your pocket.”

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Bernie Davis, 92, of Cypress, was the oldest member at the convention. Davis goes out dancing seven nights a week and entertains his friends during the day playing his harmonica.

Davis also entertained at the convention. In fact, everyone entertaining the convention was on stage several times during the two-day get-together, playing solo or with a group.

Many had never met, but in no time at all were playing together, like Ruth Platte, 61, of Carmichael, Calif., Lois Clark, 69, of Portland, Ore., and Marnee McLean, 61, of New Westminster, B.C., who pulled their harmonicas out of their purses and had a lively session minutes after being introduced.

Mark Ley, 14, of Santa Ana, one of the youngest members in attendance, brought a 50-year-old harmonica inherited from his grandfather.

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During the convention, James McKenzie, 40, owner of The Harmonica Hospital in Orange and one of fewer than a dozen professional harmonica repairers in America, did a land-office business working on instruments.

The society was founded in 1963 by Earl Collins, a Ford Motor Co. engineer in Detroit. More than 3,800 harmonica addicts in the United States and several foreign nations belong to the organization based in Troy, Mich.

The society has 35 chapters throughout the country and publishes a quarterly called “Harmonica Happenings.” SPAH West, the Southern California chapter, has headquarters at 3021 E. Coronado Ave., Anaheim. Convention chairman was Nick Vorona, 62, of Anaheim, president of the local chapter.


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