Tony Eyers Harmonica Trio

From Harmonica World April-May 2013

A key feature of the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival is the seemingly endless procession of high quality ensembles, trios and quartets in particular. Inspired by these players, I’ve long considered forming my own trio, over the last 12 months it has come to pass.

This is how it went.

The Asian trios generally comprise bass, chord and chromatic harmonica, the traditional western trios likewise. I neither possess nor play these instruments. The Asian players generally opt for virtuoso pieces, again ruling me out.

A new approach was required. First, the traditional trio instruments needed replacing with ones familiar to me. Then I had to find players able to manage them (I’m in Sydney, Australia). Then, a new trio repertoire.

I’m mostly a 10 hole player, my focus is traditional music (bluegrass, Irish), played on retuned diatonics. So, I could take a lead role with these instruments and tunes. I’ve been playing button accordion the last year of so, the repertoire adapts easily to harmonica. Some accordion tunes could join the mix.

The rhythm section, chord and bass harmonica, drives traditional harmonica trios. My trio needed rhythm instruments as well. Some years ago I bought a Chinese Huang Chordet harmonica, combining bass notes and chords. I retuned it to my needs (see Harmonica World June/July 2012 for details). I figured this instrument could drive the trio.

With rhythm managed (more or less) by one instrument, the Huang Chordet, I could add another lead instrument. I opted for tremolo harmonica, to contrast with the diatonic. Two lead instruments also allow harmonies, as long as the players/arrangers (us) were up to it…

So. The lineup was to be diatonic, tremolo and combined chord/bass. Maybe other lead combinations down the track.

Now the players. A trio is three, I needed two more. After some thought I settled on two local players. We decided to skip live performances, as audiences would be thin. Instead we opted for YouTube.

This added video production to the mix. Inspired by videos on the Apple site, we settled on an all white background. My shed was cleared, a camera and white backdrop installed, an (awful) lot of fiddling with lights, and we had a studio. Of sorts. Excellent sound recording gear is cheaply had these days, so all was in place.

What could go wrong? Actually, a lot. I live under a flight path, and never realised how many aircraft pass by. Every few minutes, it turns out, from 6 am to 11 pm, each one ruining any take that might be underway. We kept the tunes short, persisted, and finally got some videos.

It then became clear that the rhythm and tremolo players were not quite up to it. To be fair, they were new to these instruments, and needed more practice. A few months passed, they stuck at it, they got better. We started again.

Some of the Asian groups dress sharp, so we gave our outfits some thought. We settled on a casual theme, keeping the same look for each player throughout the videos. Likewise, the video titles were a design choice, we chose red lettering on a white background, with an old style font. Modern video editing software is cheap and very powerful, so amateurs like us can look better than we actually are.

Having settled on clothes, gotten the studio working, the players up to speed, we then set to the arrangements. Video is demanding, a note out of place shows, unlike live performance. To increase our chances of getting it right we opted for simple arrangements – unison and basic harmonies between the lead instruments, minimal solos.

Given our combined lack of musical nous, we figured out harmonies by trial and error, recording a lead part, then trying a few harmony notes, recording them when they were right, then moving on. Slow going, but it works.

None of us are flashy players, so we use other means to get our tunes across. In particular, variations in articulation. Long notes, shorts notes, placed strategically. Getting everyone to remember at the same time has been a challenge, but we’re getting there. Dynamics will enter the mix down the track, but for now we’re just trying to get the notes right.

Anyway, the music is as good at it will get, for now at least. I formed the group, so it’s the Tony Eyers Trio. Google us.