In the auditorium of Porter Middle School in Granada Hills, studio musician Tom Edwards held up a 6-inch harmonica and asked the audience of 70 students an obvious question: "What do you think it is?"
One of the students guessed: "a harmonica?"
Edwards turned to Michael Rotman, chairman of the music department at Porter, and said, "They are smart."
"Do you know what kind of harmonica?" Edwards asked.
The 65-year-old musician, whose credits include the score for the Oscar-winning movie "Dances With Wolves" and the theme from the TV series "The Rockford Files," answered his own question: "It's a diatonic harmonica."
After a brief explanation, he then proceeded to perform "Amazing Grace" with the flair of Liberace.
The restless teenage audience was suddenly captivated.
The diatonic harmonica was one of six types Edwards demonstrated to the middle school audience in what has become an annual event.
"I knew him before I started teaching in '81 and I asked him if he would talk to the students and he agreed to do this," Rotman said.
During the first of two one-hour programs Tuesday, Rotman showed a video clip from "Dances With Wolves" and a scene from a "Twilight Zone" television episode that featured Edwards' harmonica music in the background.
"The long tones were the most difficult part because you have to hold the tone without shaking," the 48-year veteran of the music industry said. He has written more than 500 musical scores and performed for the empress and royal family of Japan.
Between harmonica demonstrations and video clips, Edwards discussed what it takes to have a career in music. Specifically, he cited practice and preparation, studying music and music history and avoiding mind-altering drugs.
"Longevity is based on health, attitude and how you treat your career, but the biggest part is how you treat your brains," he said.