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The things you don’t know about harmonicas could probably fill a tuba.

Did you know the Gateway Harmonica Club has been around St. Louis for more than 30 years? Or that it meets each and every week?

Furthermore, would you have guessed there are more than 100 members in the club, many of them women?

Also, did you know there were four basic types of harmonicas, with the priciest ones tagged at more than $2,000?

And in the spirit of the season, did you know the club has a CD of holiday music for your Yuletide listening pleasure?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

‘I can’t sing’

Ask a harmonica player why they started playing and you often get an answer similar to the one from longtime Gateway member Jim Melchers.

“I can’t sing, but I wanted to come up with something that was close,” Melchers said.

Not that Melchers, 62, lacks musical talent. He also plays the piano, trombone and guitar. “But the harmonica is so expressive,” he said.

No argument was forthcoming from the 25 people who showed up at a recent club meeting, held every Tuesday at the Rock Church, 9125 Manchester Road in Brentwood.

On any given Tuesday, starting at 6 p.m., you could find a room with people learning how to play blues harmonica, while another room may have beginners learning the rudiments. Still another room might be filled with more skilled members working on specific pieces.

And the evening usually ends with an open mic session for those brave enough to venture up for a solo.

At this recent meeting, 12 members practiced holiday songs to play for senior centers and community groups that have booked the club for gigs.

They worked through “Silent Night,” “Silver Bells” and “Frosty, the Snowman,” which they played slow, man, to make sure newer members could keep up.

In another room, six veteran players — Melchers and his wife, Julie Melchers, Audria Gebhardt, Ann Samuels, Tom Sutterfield and Ernie Roberts — tackled the {span}”Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.”{/span}

“We have a few more than 100 members and I’d say at least half, maybe a few more, are women,” Jim Melchers said.

‘10 cents and a box top’

The Davis brothers, Frank and Bill, were part of the five-man group who started the club back in 1987.

Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, younger brother Bill was the first to get a harp.

“Got it through the mail,” said Bill Davis, 85. “Cost me 10 cents and a box top off of something. It was just a little old plastic thing, a toy.”

But that was the start of his passion, one which all but ensures that if you ever meet Bill Davis, he will be carrying a harmonica.

“He’s always got a harmonica on him, wherever he goes,” said older brother Frank, 88.

Bill Davis said the club began after the founders went to Kansas City for a harmonica convention and met people from clubs in other cities.

“So we came home and said, ‘We can do that.’ So that’s what we did,” he said.

When it comes to years spent playing the harmonica, Bob Norton can give the Davis brothers a run for their money.

In front of about 160 people at a Thanksgiving party at Congregation Shaare Emeth, Norton wowed the crowd with his rendition of Edith Piaf’s classic “La Vie en Rose.”

He started playing 80 years ago, when he was 11 and living in the Baden neighborhood of north St. Louis.

“I wanted to play the trombone,” said Norton, who said his father likely did not want that much musical noise in the house. “So he got me a harmonica and I’d go out in the garage to play.”

But unlike the Davises, Norton started on a higher-quality instrument.

“It was a chromatic with 16 holes,” he said, “so I could play anything.”

The harmoni-facts

This seems like a good time to let some Gateway members explain the harmonica, which evolved from a centuries-old Asian instrument known as a “sheng.”

The modern harp developed in the early 1800s in Germany and grew in popularity after German clockmaker Matthias Hohner started making a model that became popular in the 1850s.

And the name Hohner still reigns in the harp world.

“I started playing on a Hohner Marine Band,” Jim Melchers said, adding that many players start on that model.

The Marine Band is what’s known as a “diatonic” harmonica and is most associated with rock and blues music. One of these costs between $30 and $50.

The next step up is a “chromatic” harmonica, which most identify with Stevie Wonder.

“It’s larger (than a diatonic) and has a button on the side, which allows you to play sharps and flats,” Melchers said.

Far lesser known are two other types: a bass harmonica, which is not much longer than a large chromatic, but at least twice as thick; and a chord harmonica, which can be up to two feet long.

And if you are looking to buy either a diatonic or a chromatic, there are choices of keys to which the instrument is tuned. There also is a choice of how many tongue holes it has, from eight to 48.

And the prices can easily go past a dime and a box top.

“A bass harmonica can cost up to $1,500 and a chord harmonica can cost $2,000,” club president Jay Hotze said.

Sutterfield came to the recent meeting with 22 harmonicas, less than half of the 50 or so he owns.

He explained that an interested player doesn’t have to pay a thousand or so dollars for a harmonica, “but a good (chromatic) will run you somewhere around $150 to $250.”

‘Happy people’

Linda Jacobs spent 30 years on active duty with the Air Force, retiring in 2015 as a command sergeant major.

Looking for some creative outlet, Jacobs signed up in 2016 for a three-class course at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, taught by Gateway members Buddy and Jessie Hirsch.

“I thought it’s three classes, not a big commitment of my time,” she said.

“I remember they told us we’d all be able to play a song after the first class — and we could. And I was hooked.”

Certainly, Jacobs likes that the regular meetings help players hone their skills and pick up tips from veteran players.

But more important, Jacobs said, are the actual members.

“Your life is all about the company you keep and I really like these people. These are nice people, happy people,” Jacobs said.

“I guess it’s hard to be sad when you’re playing a harmonica.”