Highlights from the 9th meeting of harmonica players at Avsenik

This past Sunday, 18 April 2015, the hall of the Avsenik Museum was filled with the music of harmonicas, a folk instrument popular not only with our grandparents, but also with the musicians of today. Most of the harmonica players who came tend to carry their instruments in their pockets at all times. All they need to do is pull them out and they're ready for a concert. The event was organised by the Avsenik-Hohner Gallery, which has a new home in the building opposite the Avsenik Restaurant. For the 9th consecutive year, they have succeeded in organising an unforgettable day made special by harmonicas – instruments that may be ancient but still offer plenty of fun.  In the morning we attended an one-hour seminar on repairing and tuning harmonicas, while the afternoon was set aside for a concert with a rich and varied line-up.

Among performers invited by the Gallery this year was a charming Italian harmonica band, Trio Armonauti. Rather than standing out for their energetic way of speaking, on this occasion the Italians showed themselves to be outstanding musicians. Venturing into the world of blues, the harmonica players Gianluca Caselli, Gianni Massarutto and Gianandrea Pasquinelli aim to combine authentic blues with harmonic jazz and Italian pop songs, thus creating their own unique sound. They have performed all over the world, from the International Harmonica Festival in Bristol, UK, to the Parnu Harmonica Festival in Estonia. The trio has just embarked on a new project entitled Armonauti in Blue, dedicated to the acoustic blues of the 1930s. They are also about to release a new album dedicated to Italian folk music.  Trio Armonauti treated the audience to the following tunes: 

  • Polka Crik Crok (a piece from the Emilia Romagna region),
  • Ciuri Ciuri (a traditional piece from Sicily),
  • Contradanza (a traditional piece from the Emilia Romagna region),
  • Giga Emiliana,
  • Paso Doble (a piece from the Emilia Romagna region),
  • La ligrie (a traditional piece from the Friuli region),
  • Harmonitango (Armonauti Tango),
  • La vita e bella (composed by Nicolo Piovani),
  • Trinita (a composition from the movie Django),
  • Il Padrino (a composition from the famous Godfather movie),
  • Stelutis (a traditional piece from the Friuli region). 

After a set of nostalgic Italian melodies, the trio ended their performance with an Avsenik evergreen, "Igral sem na orglice". If there had been more room in the museum, the social evening could just as well have been called a dance evening, as the audience was in an excellent mood with many people moving to the beat, clapping, singing and whistling – in short, having fun, which was of course the original purpose of the event. Adding to the jovial mood and the smiles on everyone's faces was the best host of all time and a true gentleman, Toni Gašperič.

Proving that the harmonica is not just an instrument for grown-ups but also popular with children was Kai, an 8-year-old from Vrbsko jezero, followed by children from near Medvode, the youth section of the Sorški orgličarji harmonica players. After their performances, it was clear that the harmonica is an instrument absolutely equal to any other taught at music schools. The children's set included compositions printed in the newly published songbook of 11 Avsenik pieces for beginner harmonica players, entitled "Igral sem na orglice" (I Played the Harmonica). Written by Urška Urbanija Žun and Marjan Urbanija (a long-time harmonica player himself and a mentor in the Avsenik harmonica classes), the book was published by Založba Avsenik. Avsenik compositions were originally written in multiple keys to allow for the alternation of singing and instrumental sections, where each part contains at least one modulation. With this in mind, adapting the pieces to beginner level and transposing them into a simple C-major key was clearly a demanding project, but with plenty of effort, heart and dedication, the authors completed it more than successfully.

The songbook "Igral sem na orglice" contains the following compositions: 

  • Igral sem na orglice,
  • Tam, kjer murke cveto, 
  • Večer na Robleku,
  • Kadar bom vandral,
  • Gozdovi v mesečini,
  • Otoček sredi jezera,
  • Prelepa Gorenjska,
  • Planica, Planica,
  • V spomin, ljubica,
  • Pod cvetočimi kostanji,
  • Mladi smo.

The book is dedicated to a very special, one-in-a-million member of Ansambel Avsenik and someone who introduced the harmonica into the band, our loyal guitarist and harmonica player Lev Ponikvar – Levček. Založba Avsenik would like to take this opportunity to thank Marjan Urbanija for his contribution to the songbook, demonstrating yet again that he is an outstanding mentor and harmonica player. Appearing with Sejmarji to play "Pastirček", the song was received with such wild applause that he had to play it again. 

The Avsenik Gallery would like to thank the participants: Trio Armonauti, Sorški orgličarji, the youth section of Sorški orgličarji, Ansambel iz Vrbskega jezera, Halonga Potepuha Dane & Stane, Lojze Peterle and his "beekeeping" piece (the composition "Čebelji roj", Swarm of Bees), Mile Domanjko, Iztok Kogelnik, Francetovi orgličarji, Robert Ivačič (who very kindly offered his assistance with the seminar), Miro Dovču, Janez Gašperin, Iztok Bergant, Mundharmonika Duo Klagenfurt, Kai Nechtelberger, Vladimir Hrovat (an outstanding virtuoso and mentor in our harmonica classes) with members of Ansambel Sorarmonica and students, Sejmarji, Marjan Urbanija, Silvo Girandon, Janez Keržič, Branko Mohorič, Vladimir Spiewak, Janko Mlakar & Grega Kampjut.  Our thanks also to the host, Toni Gašperič.

Dear harmonica players, thank you all for your participation and the time you gave us. Without you this wonderful event would not have been possible. We are delighted that you keep returning to us after all these years, making each event memorable and special.  You are always welcome at the new Avsenik Gallery!