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Lifelong harmonica enthusiast wants to pass on love of music

Courtesy Photo/Westminster at Lake Ridge - Ninety-four-year-old Jack Hopkins received his first harmonica at the age of six and has been playing ever since.
Jack Hopkins did not attend this year's Virginia HarmonicaFest, the annual event for harmonica enthusiasts.

The 94-year-old resident of Westminster at Lake Ridge retirement community hasn’t lost his lifelong interest in the instrument though. He attends weekly meetings of the Capitol Harmonica Club in Fairfax County.

He and one or two other harmonica players eagerly show up each Tuesday night to jam and discuss their love of the mouth harp.

At the age of around 6, he recalls his parents giving him a toy harmonica in his Christmas stocking. Within days, Hopkins was playing a popular tune of the day, much to his father’s surprise.

Today, Hopkins has a collection of harmonicas that would impress a museum curator. He has 16 different types of harmonicas in the collection: bass, chord and chromatic harmonicas are just a few.

He doesn’t know how many harmonicas are in the collection as he has many of each type. Hopkins buys simple harmonicas in bulk and gives them away to anyone who shows an interest in his favorite musical instrument.

He taught himself to play and didn’t attend his first educational seminar until after the age of 50. The five-day seminar was sponsored by a company that repaired a harmonica for him.

Hopkins traveled to New York and was delighted to learn that he hadn’t taught himself any bad playing habits.

When Hopkins first moved to Washington, D.C. in 1964, he sought out a local harmonica instructor. He called music stores, schools and even the musicians union.

At the time, the union had only one member who played harmonica as his second instrument. He couldn’t find a single teacher.

So, Hopkins started teaching harmonica and music reading in local recreation programs and the Northern Virginia area.

Hopkins is co-founder of the 23-year-old Capitol Harmonica Club, which is one of three harmonica clubs in the state that supports the annual Virginia HarmonicaFest.

The 2014 event ran March 27- 29 in Virginia Beach.

In the last 17 years, Hopkins has attended all but two of the HarmonicaFests.

“I have not found a single harmonica player at HarmonicaFest, no matter how renowned, who is not willing to answer questions or offer advice,” said Hopkins.

Today, Hopkins is focused more locally. He attends his weekly club meetings, plays along with the hymn-singing at church, demonstrates his collection and performs for his neighbors at Westminster at Lake Ridge.

At its heyday, the Capitol Harmonica Club boasted 15 members.

Hopkins said he would like to see a new generation showing an interest in the harmonica. The Club is open to newcomers, and meets Tuesday evenings at the Alexandria Wesley United Methodist Church on Richmond Avenue.

Anyone can connect with the club online at facebook.com/CapitolHarmonicaClub.
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