Features — How Sean O’Phelan Paid For His Upcoming Vacation: He Planned A Harmonica Workshop

By Tiffany Edwards Hunt

Sean O’Phelan, 33, of Hilo, is going on vacation in June.  He is putting on a harmonica workshop June 26 – 29 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The workshop was inspired by his love for the harmonica and his desire to take a vacation.

“Living in Hawaii and being a harmonica player makes it tough, because there’s not a lot of harmonica in Hawaii.  Generally I will go to the mainland to learn harmonica, but it’s very expensive to take a trip there.  And the workshops that are available nowadays are pretty expensive, they’re in a location that is not convenient to get to, they make it very hard to be able to go to them and experience the workshop.  So, the one I would normally go to, they canceled the last two years.  So, I decided, if they are not going to have their event, I need to have one myself.”

O’Phelan’s last workshop was in 2012, and he immediately was motivated by the people running the event and by the teachers.  He decided he would look into doing it himself.  He started to plan a workshop in Hawaii, participated in the Puna Music Festival last year as a teacher of basic harmonica, and it was very cool. “It was exciting, it’s just there wasn’t enough people to make it a reality here in Hawaii.” So, he did some research and started calling top-name harmonica guys, people he has networked with in harmonica world, and sought out details of what they liked in harmonica workshops.

As he started talking to people, he noticed a lot of people running harmonica events are looking to get out of them or looking for new people to run their event.

So O’Phelan found his niche.

He has put together the Midwest Harmonica Workshop, which will be four nights and three days of harmonica performances, classes, jams, and networking with 75 other harmonica players.  It will be in Downtown St. Paul, right in the center of historic downtown, “an amazing place to have a workshop.” Workshop itself will be at Golden Deli, where he worked at as a kid.  It is a seven-story historic building, and the deli just takes the first floor. The conference will take place in five rooms throughout the building.

O’Phelan moved to the Big Island in 2007 to refocus his life away from Minnesota.  “I left there because I was having trouble in Minnesota getting things together, and so my brother lived out here,” and he offered for O’Phelan to come out and straighten out his life.  He got a one-way ticket to Hawaii and he decided to stay “because I love it.”

“Immediately my life started to turn around,” O’Phelan said.

O’Phelan is a student at Hawaii Community College and was the organizer of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hilo.

Bringing the harmonica workshop to Minnesota is a way for me to visit his family and go home.

“This workshop pays for my ticket and it allows me to get the harmonica training that I need to be the best at little or no cost whatsoever,” O’Phelan said.  “I’m not even into making a million dollars here.  I just wanted to figure out a way to go home once a year and learn from the best people in the business.”

Back in Hawaii, he hopes to put together a harmonica workshop on Oahu or the Big Island.  He’ll do that once a year and continue to do his workshop on the mainland once a year.

Any interest in harmonica in Hawaii?

“Absolutely,” O’Phelan said.  “It’s mainly hidden in the jungle.  They’re playing harmonica,  but they don’t know that there are any harmonica events.  It’s just a matter of exposure in the local community, which will the spark interest.

For Puna Music Festival last year, he had nine days notice and that amount of time to promote the workshop.  “And we had people come from all around the island.”  He can foresee a well-noticed harmonica workshop could appeal to a wider audience.

O’Phelan is hopeful for the music scene on the Big Island.  He encourages all harmonica players on the Big Island to get in touch with him, via email at info@midwestharmonica.com or phone (808)854-3443, or visit www.midwestharmonica.com.

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