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'Blowhards' needed: Grand Rapids Harmonica Club hopes to expand membership

The Grand Rapids Harmonica Club has seen its membership dwindle in recent years. They're currently looking to add new members.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — West Michigan is chock full of different clubs for people to become members of. There are dance clubs, fitness clubs and book clubs.

And that's barely scratching the surface.

There is one club that few likely know about, and yet, it's been around for decades. But you have to be a "blowhard" to be a member.

For the last 30 years, a group of people from all across West Michigan have gathered in Grand Rapids to share their love for playing the harmonica.

"We currently meet the second Saturday of every month," said Phyllis Spinal-Robinson, who is the president of the Grand Rapids Harmonica Club. "We had as many as 35 members at one time, but that's dwindled in recent years. We have only 15 active members now."

Phyllis said the main reason for the membership numbers decreasing is because most of the members grew old and passed away.

"There is no age limit to become a member of our club," Phyllis said. "We've had members as young as 10 years old before."

The club gathers in the basement of Pennellwood Church of God, which is located at 3459 Reiser Ave. SW in Grand Rapids. They have a catalog of over 50 songs they play, from gospel and blues to jazz and traditional folk music.

"We have a lot of different skill in the club," Phyllis added. "And we take the time to teach people, too."

Dick Nelson has been a member of the club for about 15 years. 

"I got hooked on it," said Nelson, who plays a huge, 23-inch-long mouth organ. "I don't intend to become any kind of professional player, but we have a good time."

The Grand Rapids Harmonica Club is invited to perform at dozens of annual West Michigan events, but the COVID-19 outbreak only allowed them to do four appearances last year. They're currently practicing for four upcoming events in 2021, and hope to add more as Michigan continues to loosen necessary pandemic-related restrictions.

"I'd encourage anybody that enjoys getting together and tooting [on a harmonica] to give us a holler," Nelson said.

If you're interested in learning more about the Grand Rapids Harmonica Club, check out their Facebook page. If you're interested in joining, send an email to Phyllis Spinal-Robinson at phyllis731@aol.com.

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