Ansel Barnum sucks at the harmonica--and blows too. Breathing into its ten little holes he finesses a deep range of expression beyond the iconic sound. From Brazilian choro to classical baroque to traditions in between, his innovative playing reveals this underestimated folk instrument capable of much more than is commonly thought.
For an instrument that usually falls in the shadows, Ansel has managed to bring its rich sound into the spotlight. He first stepped into spotlight himself in 2008 upon winning Godfrey Daniels' annual Best of Open Mic contest, a distinction that would be repeated in 2010. This lead to performances on numerous music festival stages, including Bethlehem's Musikfest which invited him back numerous times various bands; Philly Folk Fest which had him return to both perform and teach harmonica workshops; Spring Gulch Folk Fest which in 2013 selected him as an emerging artist then invited him back the following year. In October 2015 he was named the inaugural Artist In Residence of Front Street Concerts, one of New England's most distinguished house concerts. In 2017 he stepped onto the stages of a couple international competitions: the U.K.'s National Harmonica League where placed second in two of its categories, and Germany's Hohner World Harmonica Competition, where he placed 4th and 10th of its two categories.
Ansel's musical versatility has made him a welcomed feature in bands of all stripes. In addition to being a ubiquitous sideman, he has pursued projects of his own with such bands as The Downtown Shimmy, a five piece ensemble from Philadelphia that performed at dance festivals across the country; Altered Tunings, an instrumental duo with guitar featuring modern instrumental techniques applied to original compositions; Choro Sincapado, a Boston based quartet specializing in traditional Brazilian music called chorinho. Such crossing of musical borders lead him to cross geographical borders with tours that spanned the US, Canada, and Europe.
From intimate house concerts to festival main stages, Ansel has brought audiences a new love for this underrated instrument. It may just be a child's "toy," but inside it he finds a mature voice to the humble diatonic harmonica.