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Many Traditional Harmonica Clubs have a problem, probably a universal one for small clubs, and that is how to attract and keep diatonic harmonica players when the club plays primarily pop-standard arrangements for chromatic, chord and bass.
This was a problem for the NHL too. We have been developing strategies to make the club more relevant to blues, and in time folk harmonica players, and others. We started on this course in 1996, then had a strategy meeting (3 September 1998) at which we developed our ideas further, and following that we took a "themed" approach to our Annual Convention in October. We met in a single large room, and assigned one corner as the blue corner, and another as the chromatic corner. Throughout the day we ran workshops in parallel for the two main interests, and this proved a great success which people really enjoyed. We shared our interests in the evening concert and play along - a mix of blues and more traditional harmonica music.
We have built on this and we are catering equally for all styles and activities
Essentially there are two parts to our strategy. One is to provide events etc for specific interests, the other is to provide for several interests within a combined event.
In 1996 the NHL (UK) added a new event to its calendar specifically for blues players - "Blue Saturday". This addresses the most common need we have found in the diatonic community - for teaching. They have been popular among those who have heard about them, and have almost paid their way. Here we are catering for your specific interest, and as the club grows, it may become possible to run events catering for other specific interests. For example, we will soon start attracting the large UK community of folk harmonica enthusiasts.
On November 14th 1998 the NHL staged its regular annual harmonica contest in a new setting. We set out to reach the diatonic / blues community and show them our club is relevant to them.
We went into partnership with "Arts Development in East Cambridgeshire" (ADEC), who provided substantial funding for our joint "Festival" - Harmonica 1998. ADEC and the NHL collaborated in publicising the event. ADEC has a strong publicity machine to attract local people in and around Ely (Cambridgeshire). The NHL has contacts with harmonica repairers, suppliers etc., and brought in people from around Britain. In all 22,000 leaflets were distributed, and TV, Radio and Newspaper coverage was considerable.
The day comprised -
- Contest for juniors and seniors - running from 0900 through 1800 - soloists in blues, diatonic melody, jazz, and chromatic - duo, trio, group, band - prizegiving
- Blues & Jazz jam session 1400 to 1700
- Workshops 1300 to 1700 - Beginners (suitable for any type of harmonica in C capable of playing a melody) - Youth (really an intermediate workshop) with a strong blues orientation - Blues Master Class - with Johnny Mars
- Evening Concert 2000 to 2300 - Initial section - Chromatic and groups - main featured acts - blues bands
The result - -We sold the contest to capacity - as many as could be processed in the time available. -We sold two of the workshops to capacity, the third to three quarters -We sold the concert to capacity (250 limit on the venue) -The Jam was not ticketed, but was packed! Numbers uncertain -Between 350 and 400 people attended, maybe more. -We signed up new members for the NHL
We have had many complimentary letters and emails. If you subscribe to Harp_L you will have seen "Kids!!!" from Doug Tate. In this our first festival of its kind, we were unable to fully implement the themed approach. If we manage to negotiate a two day event for next year, it will become feasible to provide more effectively for other interests too. In subsequent years we have managed to involve large numbers of children.
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