Harmonica History

Local Harmonica Enthusiast Hosts Civil War Harmonica Workshop at Manatee Historical Park

Dr. Erwin Wunderlich wants to bring back the golden age of the harmonica.

By Audrey Warne July 11, 2018

Dr. Wunderlich will have a Civil War-era Hohner harmonica on display at his event.

Dr. Erwin Wunderlich wants to bring back the golden age of the harmonica. The author, history buff and harmonica enthusiast will hold a Civil War harmonica workshop at Manatee Village Historical Park on Saturday, July 14. There are two sessions, one at 10 a.m. and one at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person and include a beginner’s harmonica, a selection of historical music and one 45-minute session in which Wunderlich will teach the basics of playing pre-1865 songs for the key of C harmonica. (Tickets may be sold out; for information call Manatee Village Historical Park at (941) 749-7165.)

Dr. Wunderlich playing his harmonica at the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton.

Wunderlich is a fifth-generation Floridian who has lived in the Bradenton area since the 1950s. He has written two books on Florida Civil War history and one on pre-1865 harmonica music. Now retired, Dr. Wunderlich continues to write and regularly demonstrates his Civil War harmonica skills at the Florida Folk Festival and other yearly pioneer celebrations.

Wunderlich first discovered the instrument through his interest in the Civil War. Intrigued by the role of the instrument in the lives of Civil War soldiers, Wunderlich decided to give the instrument a try. He ended up liking the harmonica so much he wrote a book about learning to play the instrument in the hopes it would pique others’ interest as well. Along with teaching 19th-century harmonica songs to those who attend his event, Wunderlich will have an original 19th-century Hohner harmonica played by a Florida militiaman on display.

“The Civil War period marked the first time there was a country-wide mass demand for the harmonica,” Wunderlich says. “Very much like the way baseball became popular across America in conjunction with World War II, the harmonica also became popular with the populace [during the Civil War].”

Wunderlich hopes his session will encourage a new generation of harmonica players as well as reignite the interest of older individuals who may have played with the instrument as children but have since given up the pastime. “The instrument itself is small, cheap, easy to learn and portable—it has just about every good thing that you could ask of a musical instrument,” Wunderlich says.

Wunderlich believes the instrument should be carried on one’s person at all times, making it easily accessible during downtime in traffic or at work. “Don’t just put it on the shelf,” Wunderlich says. “Fulfill its utility as a portable device and carry it with you on vacation, driving around to work.”

Wunderlich’s biggest piece of advice for those interested in learning to play the harmonica? “Don’t give up on it! Pick it up and you might be surprised at how much you’ll enjoy it and how easy you’ll find it to learn.”

 Manatee Village Historical Park is located at 1404 Manatee Ave., Bradenton.

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