Reich Teaches the Blues at Flagstaff’s Historic Murdoch Community Center

Posted: Friday, October 6th 2017 at 4:25 PM

On Sunday, September 24, 2017, Professor Allen Reich (bio) of the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management put on a Blues harmonica clinic at Flagstaff’s Historic Murdoch Community Center. The event drew kids as young as 4 years old and adults over 50. At these events, Reich teaches kids and adults the history of the blues and its importance to African Americans, then provides attendees with free blues harmonicas and teaches them how to play. For the finale, everyone gets the chance to play their own blues solo accompanied by Reich on guitar.

Reich’s interest in the blues and the plight of African Americans was heavily influenced by his own cultural heritage of being Jewish and his grandparents’ escape from Poland just before WWII. Most of the family perished at the Treblinka Concentration Camp and in the Warsaw Ghetto about four years before he was born.

Additional influences include growing up in a military family, attending desegregated schools, and living on a banana plantation in Bermuda with black families for three years in the home of former slaves in the 1950s.

“When I began playing in bands in 1965, the majority of the songs were heavily influenced by the Blues. However, traditional 12-bar Blues were more popular with British Bands, while in the U.S. a more sophisticated style known as Rhythm and Blues dominated the music scene. The main reason I like Blues music is its combination of artistic freedom and intense emotions,” shared Reich.

Deborah Ann Harris, the director of the Historic Murdoch Community Center, said, “The event was a great way to get people interested in the history of the blues and the music. Everyone leaves happy with their new skills and new harmonica! Allen has also taught blues song writing and harmonica classes in our summer school program and has played blues and jazz background music for various cultural events and art exhibits at the Center.“

Reich's favorite outcomes for these events are that it brings people together to learn about how the U.S. treated people in the past and how we should treat and respect people today. He explores how music helped people cope with slavery and how their coping mechanism became the foundational form for most music that we listen to today.

“It would take more space than we have here to cover all the benefits of giving back to the community through volunteering and events such as this. Seeing and hearing the young and old learn to play an instrument is a blast! It is not by accident that service to the university and to others is an important responsibility of faculty, and it certainly is a living demonstration of hospitality,” he concluded.

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