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HOH’s One-Minute Recess: The Harmonica Man

A half-hour before the Senate Armed Services Committee kicked off its hearing this morning, Richard “the Music Man” Martin took up his harmonica and started jamming to “Lean on Me” during the sound check.

The hearing, with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, was about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and doesn’t immediately suggest a place for Bill Withers hits to be played over loudspeakers.

“I really don’t play for political use,” Martin tells HOH. But “it calms the Congress people down before the hearing starts.”

Martin, who works in the electronic engineer division under the Architect of the Capitol, taught himself to play the harmonica about 25 years ago, he says, and has been playing ever since. He’s never recorded a song and never played with a band, but a few years ago he started playing the harmonica before hearings.

He asks the staff preparing rooms if it’s OK if he plays the harmonica before the hearings and, generally, the staff says yes.

“They kinda like it,” he says. “At least they like it when I get it right.”

C-SPAN also uses Martin’s harmonica jam session for their mic-check, he says.

“At one point,” Martin says, “I tried it out in one of the hearing rooms.” The gathered group “kinda liked it.”

They must have because they gave him a standing ovation. On top of that, Martin received a thank you note dated Nov. 17, 2008, from the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). In the note, Kennedy thanked Martin for preparing the room and for his excellent playing. The event that day was the 25th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Ceremony, Kennedy wrote.

Martin has kept the note framed in his office.

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