Man with a harmonica

Just when I thought I might run out of volunteer pianist stories to tell, this happened:

I was just a few minutes into my hour of playing for the residents of an independent-living community when Joel sat down in an armchair by the piano and pulled a harmonica from his pocket.

He accompanied me on “Bicycle Built for Two.” Joel had the waltz rhythm down pat. But the notes? Not so much.

Okay, I thought, maybe he’ll only play one song.

But he continued to join in on another half dozen: “The Glory of Love,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Blue Skies,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” …

Hey, get your own show.

After I played “It Had to Be You,” Joel said, “That was a good one. Now can you play that song about ‘a boy for you and a girl for me’?”

Amazingly, I knew what he meant! After all, I’ve been a volunteer pianist playing music from the Great American Songbook for close to 15 years now.

Joel was requesting “Tea for Two,” from the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette.

Picture you upon my knee,
Just tea for two and two for tea,
Just me for you and you for me alone.

We will raise a family
A boy for you, a girl for me,
Oh can’t you see how happy we would be?

The words are silly because they’re “dummy lyrics” written hurriedly by Irving Caesar and meant to be temporary, just to help work out the song’s metric form and rhyme scheme. Vincent Youmans, who wrote the melody, liked the lyrics so much he refused to let Caesar change them later.

So I played “Tea for Two” for Joel. He sang along. But he didn’t sing the lyrics about “a boy for you, a girl for me.”

While I played “Tea for Two,” Joel sang the words to “It Had to Be You.”

A couple of times he interrupted his singing to blow a few irrelevant notes on his harmonica, enjoying himself immensely.

I felt like I was playing that game mentioned in a recent post: “One Song to the Tune of Another.”

But Joel, man with a harmonica, sure had a good time.

Paulette Bochnig Sharkey



This entry was posted in Aging, Audiences, Music and emotion, Volunteering and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Man with a harmonica

  1. Roger Wise says:

    Harmonicas are not versatile instruments and each is tuned to play in only one particular key. Serious harmonica players carry a caseload of harmonicas so that they can play each tune in the proper key. Undoubtedly your accompanist played all or most of your selections off key. You can only hope that Joel won’t show up the next time you play that gig.

  2. Yeah, Joel played off-key. And now I know why. Thanks, Roger!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    way to go with the flow!

  4. Jessa says:

    I LOVE that song!! Remember when dad used to sing it and dance to it with me to be silly? I always thought if I had to do a father-daughter dance, it would be to that song.

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