Of Choice: Diatonic (Manji
Christelle Berthon began playing music at age 4 in her home town of Chateauroux in the center of France, which she describes as lovely but boring. Playing her recorder along with everything on the radio, including pop songs, set the stage for her eclectic repertoire, which now includes everything from Bach concertos to down-home blues. After playing her first gig with renowned French folk band Malicorne, at age 14 Christelle began six years of classical oboe studies, passing the exams for the national schools of Paris and Lyon.
At the age of 24, completely by chance, she bought her first harmonica and found that it provided a welcome diversion from four hard years of oboe studies. Almost straight away, I fell in love with this instrument, she recalls. Still, she was feeling strange about this ridiculous piece of wood until her passion was cemented by an incident a few months later that she relates with a little embarrassment: the renowned French harmonica player Jean-Jacques Milteau played a gig in her town, and feeling a bit tipsy, Christelle was bold enough to ask to sit in, armed only with the one harp she owned. Afterward, she felt that she played so badly that she apologized, but Milteau thought well enough of her playing that he offered her playing tips when she came to visit Paris, and she stayed with harmonica for three more years.
However, life obliged Christelle to give up playing music for twelve years, until one decisive day in Ireland, in November, 2006. Knowing that Christelle had once been a musician, a lady offered her a diatonic harmonica. Returning to France, Christelle committed to being the musician that she was meant to be, practicing up to eight hours a day. To share her work with people, she opened her now-renowned YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/christellester).
Now Christelle is playing gigs and concerts (including with Melody Gardot), she's been featured at the SPAH Convention and recently she earned the second place at the World Harmonica Championship 2009.
"Along the diatonic harmonica history, lots of things have been tried to make this instrument sounded great, but Manji Suzuki and his team have succeed to produce the impossible: a diatonic that keeps the tradition of the blues but the ability to be ready for the modern way of playing with overbends...
the Manji M-20. I find this instrument so easy to play that it's useless to have very expensive customized harmonicas of any kind: the comb will last for ever (thanks to the high technology employed using the resin and wood fibers) and the adjustment of the reeds allows you to concentrate on the most important thing: the music. All that for a price that no one has never dreamt of. Sure I will never leave my Manji's behind me (they come in all 12 keys, plus low F and high G) they're now my best companions."