Most Viewed Stories
Yuman teaches harmonica in one-hour lesson
It took Cherie Manuel almost 60 years, but she finally did it.
“I told myself I would challenge myself with whatever I've never done before. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” Manuel, a winter visitor from British Columbia, Canada, told the Yuma Sun.
What she's always wanted to do is play the harmonica.
“My mom and sister play it and I decided that I better try. I love to listen to Willie Nelson play it. I love the sounds of the blues. It's haunting and I love that haunting sound.”
Joyce Ficocello, a winter visitor from Wisconsin, has also always wanted to play the small instrument.
“It's my very first time,” Ficocello said after a recent lesson. “It's something I always wanted to do. Since I was a kid, it has fascinated me.”
Both women learned to play the harmonica during the “Easiest Harmonica Lesson on Earth” led by Yuma resident Dave Maiville, more famously known as Cowboy Dave.
“It's good to know there's a class that makes it easy so you don't get overwhelmed,” Manuel said.
“The one-hour class is all you need,” Maiville said.
About a dozen people recently attended his class, which is held at 11 a.m. every other Thursday at Sun Vista RV Resort, 7201 E. 32nd St.
During a recent class, Maiville taught them the basics and immediately put them to work, practicing songs such as “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
Maiville also had them try out classics such as “Oh Susanna,” “El Paso,” “Home on the Road” and “Shenandoah.”
“That's why I never let any kids under 13 in the class … because they don't know these songs,” he joked.
He encouraged his students to play with confidence “and people will be very impressed … The more you mess with it, the better.”
Maiville even practices without a harmonica while driving. “Finally I get a slap because my wife's trying to sleep.”
He said it's OK to “cheat” as most listeners won't even know the harmonica player made a mistake.
“Don't stop and say, ‘Oh my gosh.' Just move to the right note and keep going.”
In a lesson filled with humor, Maiville used non-technical terms such as “puffing out the cheeks,” “biting down,” “chewing” and “wobbling the mouth.”
He recommended they have a “default” song.
“It never fails. People will see a harmonica and say, ‘Hey, play something.' Then my mind goes blank. So I have a default song, ‘Red River Valley.'”
Toward the end of the lesson, he had the students accompany him while he played his guitar.
He ended the lesson by encouraging them to play often. “The magic with this instrument is everything seems to work. Now you know how to play it. Go forth and play.”
First-timer Dave Delorey, another winter visitor from British Columbia, said he would give it a try.
“I like music. If I can learn to play an instrument, if it can give me something to do when I'm sitting by myself, I'm gonna give it a try,” Delorey said.
Maiville, who plays “intuitively,” grew up in a musical family in South Texas and has been playing the harmonica nearly all of his life.
“We traveled all summer and we would sing and play in the car. My dad was a federal marshal and he took off most summers.”
Maiville and his six siblings spent the summers working the fields in Michigan.
“My dad was raised in the Depression era so we all had to work. We called ourselves migrant workers because we worked for dad.”
Maiville plays the guitar, saxophone, tuba, piano and clarinet. He joined a band in fifth grade and played Dixieland in front of the hardware store.
“By the time we graduated from high school, we had played at 52 proms. We were doing it to meet girls. We didn't realize we were real musicians,” he said, laughing.
He went on to get a bachelor's degree with a double major in astronautics and world literature and a master's degree in performing arts. He directed theater in California for 10 years, working with the children of many Hollywood celebrities.
Then his first wife, Joy, also a theater major and teacher, got the news that she had a serious lung disease and only had six months to live.
“We sold everything and took off traveling the world and she lived six years,” Maiville said.
In Hawaii he taught scuba diving, eventually ending up in Catalina Island, Calif., where he and Joy became friends with his future wife, Nancy. Joy passed away in 1986.
He and Nancy also teach square dancing, which is what led to the harmonica classes.
“I remember sitting around playing the harmonica and a friend said, ‘I hate it. I can't play it.' I said, ‘That's because you're doing it all wrong.' Right then I invented my method.”
But he came up with the one-hour concept while working with busloads of tourists in Utah, in order to keep them entertained.
In Yuma, his class costs $7 and includes a free harmonica. The next class is set for Dec. 9. He has classes scheduled through March. He also teaches survival Spanish.
The Cowboy Dave Show will then hit the road. He takes his weekend traveling show to resorts around the country. It includes music around the campfire, harmonica lessons, an all-acoustic classic show on Saturday and a gospel sing-along on Sunday.
He and his wife will travel around the country but their base will be here. They moved to Yuma in March after he got laid off from his prison job in California.
“I was hired to teach music but from Day 1, I ended up teaching a behavior modification program.”
After being laid off, “we pulled up our roots, came here, found Sun Vista and got a park model.”
He looks forward to more travel. “I wouldn't say I'm a hippie, I'm more of a free spirit. I love to travel and meet people.”
For more information on the harmonica or Spanish survival classes, call Maiville at 1-435-668-1736.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856.