Jacob Prosek ’15 feels there could be an alternative teaching method for children first learning to play musical instruments. He foresees American elementary schools using harmonicas, which are cheaper, more portable and more pleasing to the ear than presently used recorders. “Even a beginner can achieve immediate success,” he says.
Prosek is so committed to the benefits of the harmonica in music education that he traveled to Trossingen, Germany, this summer to research the culture of harmonica music. In this isolated southern German town, there are harmonica orchestras, competitions, a music school and the headquarters of Hohner, the world’s leading manufacturer of the instrument. Here a harmonica band plays in the orchestra pit for local school productions.
“With a chromatic harmonica, you can play the semi-tones—the sharps and flats—and the musicians in Trossingen were performing Bach and other composers,” explains Prosek, a music education major who will student-teach at Oak Park Elementary School in Aurora. “The level of musicianship is incredible.”
He started teaching the harmonica during summer 2014 when he was an intern with Jr./Sr. Scholars on North Central’s campus. As he planned music lessons for middle school students from East Aurora and Chicago, he proposed using inexpensive harmonicas to teach beginning music concepts and then wrote the curriculum himself.
This opportunity sparked his passion for further research into the instrument as a teaching tool. He applied for a Richter Grant to visit Trossingen to interview teachers, observe classes, view the Collection of the Deutusches Harmonika Museum and tour Hohner’s headquarters. Prosek intends to present his research on campus during fall term and demonstrate a variety of harmonicas. “From my experience, young students respond positively to the instrument,” he says. “My research in Germany shows that the harmonica has the potential to be an important component in modern music education.”
“My research in Germany shows that the harmonica has the potential to be an important component in modern music education.” Jacob Prosek ‘15