The Harmonknights are an outgrowth of Knights of Columbus Council 7969 in nearby Stoney Creek and, since their founding in 1984, have performed well over 400 concerts, mainly in nursing homes and retirement residences.
Originally started by three harmonica players (hence, the origin of their name, along with the fact that they sometimes sing in harmony), the group today boasts 13 active members, as well as several occasional ones.
Although the group plays throughout the year, it is at Christmas when, as leader Mario Castellani puts it, the Harmonknights try to “cram in” as many concerts as they can.
“Everybody wants you at that time,” he said, adding that the group performs 25-30 concerts per year. “We wear our Christmas hats (while) one of our members, Luc Memme, dresses up as Santa Claus and goes through the crowd shaking hands. We feel privileged to be able to sing and have a good time with people who truly enjoy it. We bring them a little bit of joy.”
After the concert, group members mingle with the crowd, exchanging hugs and kisses in many cases.
A highlight of the festive season for the Harmonknights is their annual performance at “Project Christmas,” an initiative of Council 7969 that aids underprivileged families in the area.
This year, 49 families, including 79 children, are to attend the Project Christmas event, during which they will be treated to food, picture-taking, games, face painting, colouring and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus, who will bear gifts for the children and food gift certificates for the parents.
“I enjoy the Christmas concerts more than anything,” said Claude Luscombe, who joined the Harmonknights in 1996. He is now in his 80s and has “retired” three times, only to continue to make occasional appearances. “People get so involved with our singing. They get up and dance with our Santa Claus. It’s just a wonderful time.”
Ray Marangoni, along with Gerry Conlon and Dominic Chuck, is one of the co-founders of the group and remains an active member at age 78.
He said it started when the three of them brought their harmonicas to a pierogi dinner and entertained the crowd after it was done. The enthusiastic response prompted the trio to start an ensemble and the rest is history.
“We will continue to do this as long as we can,” said Marangoni.
The group’s first concert was at the Clarion Nursing Home in Stoney Creek in November 1984. Over the years, more members and instruments — including banjo, kazoo, accordion, guitar and keyboard — have at various times been recruited.
Anyone in the Hamilton area wishing a performance by the Harmonknights can contact the St. Francis Xavier Parish office at (905) 662-8593 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.