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January 18, 1991 - Image 75

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-01-18

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Teacher, performer and composer Henry Feinberg says
there's no instrument like the harmonica.

O P-

Assistant Editor


t was a love that
couldn't be stopped.
Henry Feinberg,
college student and
music aficionado,
was studying for a test. A
friend was sitting nearby. The
two men chatted amiably,
discussing their courses at
Oakland University.

Then it happened.
The friend reached into his
jacket pocket, and Henry
Feinberg saw something
beautiful and lean and ir-
resistible. It was about to
change his life forever.
The source of his joy: a
"My friend pulled out this
harmonica and I just fell in
love with it," said Mr.
Feinberg, a composer and
musician who lives in Royal
Oak. "So right away I went
to Pontiac — that was the
closest place we could find a
music store — and I bought
Twenty years have passed
since Mr. Feinberg bought
his first harmonica. Since
then, he has become one of
Detroit's leading harmonica
players, performing with
blues bands throughout the
city and teaching the in-
strument to numerous
He's also a composer who
has written music for
several industrial films and
is an accomplished pianist,
though the first instrument
he mastered was neither the
piano nor the harmonica,
but the clarinet.
Both Mr. Feinberg's
parents were musicians; his
mother played the piano, his
father was a clarinetist.
When Henry was 7, he
began taking clarinet

lessons. Three years later,
he took up the piano.
From childhood, Mr.
Feinberg had an innate abil-
ity to repeat any piece of
music he heard. Listening to
a song just once on the radio,
he could immediately play it
on the piano.
Though he opted to major
in biology, Mr. Feinberg
could not resist the allure of
music while in college. Once
he had bought his first har-
monica, he taught himself
how to play and produce
what he calls the in-
strument's "soulful sound."
Mr. Feinberg soon found
work playing with a
bluegrass band that includ-
ed guitars, a mandolin and
Then, learning of Mr.
Feinberg's harmonica skills,

a friend suggested he teach.
Mr. Feinberg created a
group class for harmonica,
attracting 10 students the
first week.
A fervent believer that
everyone has musical abili-
ties, Mr. Feinberg said his
teaching methods are based
on his own experiences. He
disavows any books on "How
to Play the Harmonica."
Playing the harmonica —
the largest-selling instru-
ment in the world — is not
difficult, Mr. Feinberg in-
sists. The first step is learn-
ing how to make a single
note; from there, it's a
matter of changing the
shape of one's mouth to
create a different sound and
remembering which holes on
the instrument produce
which notes.

Students generally require
about two to three months to
learn how to play the har-
monica, he said.
While most students want
to learn the blues, the har-
monica can be used to play
all kinds of music, Mr.
Feinberg said. "I look at the
harmonica as a musical in-
strument to play music on —
not an instrument to play
harmonica music on."
Mr. Feinberg also sees a
big demand for blues at
clubs in the Detroit area. He
often sits in with 72-year-old
Jesse White of Mississippi,
"a true blues man," and con-
tinues to study the music of
old-time musicians.
"Those were real rough-
and-tumble old blues players
from Chicago, the kind of men
who had a day job and

Photos by Glenn Triest


Henry Feinberg: "My friend
pulled out this harmonica and I
just fell in love."

played in bars at night," he
In addition to giving pri-
vate lessons, Mr. Feinberg in
1986 taught a harmonica
group class at Oakland
Community College.
At first, school administra-
tors were hesitant, Mr.
Feinberg said. Then 12
students signed up for the
spring semester. A school of-
ficial also appeared the first
night of the course "I think
to make sure I wasn't a
His own musical talents
have taken Mr. Feinberg to
numerous clubs and cafes.
He has appeared at the
Rhinoceros and the Soup
Kitchen Saloon, where he
has performed solo on both
the piano and harmonica. He
has played with the
Mainline Blues Band and
After Hours and at private
parties. His wife Lynn, a
singer, often accompanies
This spring, he will teach a
harmonica class at the Birm-
ingham Community House.
Early on in his career, Mr.
Feinberg played for a non-
paying audience. While liv-
ing in apartments, he would
practice quietly on the har-
monica so as not to disturb
neighbors, "though in-
variably when they would
see me they would tell me
how much they enjoyed my
Mr. Feinberg has many
memories of his mother
playing Bach on the piano —
a composer Mr. Feinberg
also admires. As a child, he
idolized the late Glenn Gould,
a classical pianist.
"I wanted to sound just
like him," he said.
"Sometimes I would sit at
the piano and pretend I was
Glenn Gould." He also
would imagine he was per-
forming before an audience,





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