December 9, 2004 at 1:20 p.m.
Last Tuesday, students in Mrs. King’s class and a few students from other fourth grade classes came together to learn how to play the two old-fashioned instruments.
Storyteller and folk singer Charlie Maguire provided the instruction to the kids. He said he thinks fourth grade is the perfect age to be introduced to the jaw harp and spoons as musical instruments.
Maguire was in the Chisago Lakes area as part of the Barn Again! exhibit, a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute. The exhibit is on display in the Creamery building in downtown Shafer through Jan. 3.
Maguire feels it’s important for kids to learn about some of the simple instruments that kids used at barn dances around the start of the 20th century.
He provided jaw harps to all the students last week and taught them how to play. “You’re going to learn something you’ll remember your whole life,” Maguire said, before playing a rendition of “Turkey in the Hay” on his own jaw harp for the students.
They were all given jaw harps from an Austrian manufacturer that has made them since 1679. Some of them thought the jaw harps looked like Christmas ornaments or key chains.
The students picked up on the technique quickly and Maguire was impressed. Within a few minutes, they were mastering the “twang” made when the harp is played correctly.
As they were learning, Maguire told them that barn dances always featured entire families; kids would be on stage along with the adults. Maguire also reminded them that 16 students would join him that night, Nov. 30, on stage for an old-fashioned barn dance at the Shafer Creamery building.
As a sort of dress rehearsal, the fourth graders gave an all-school performance that afternoon, featuring any of the students who felt comfortable about playing the jaw harp in front of the group.
The kids all seemed to enjoy learning the jaw harp, although laughter sometimes made it difficult to hold the instrument squarely between their teeth. And it still works even with braces on your teeth, Maguire told the class.
After the jaw harp lesson, Maguire went on to teach the kids how to play the spoons, which the kids brought along themselves.
Maguire said he is excited to be able to teach the instruments as part of the barn exhibit.
“It’s an outreach program to teach kids their own way to make barn music,” he said. “Years ago music was passed on in families through barn dances. These two instruments are both important.”
The Barn Again! exhibit is open Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no admission fee. It highlights agricultural changes and different barn styles utilized throughout history.
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