Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

No Harm. No Monica. No Regrets.

Brown’s oldest and only harmonica trio discusses meteoric rise, haters, bond over music

What’s your favorite instrument — and why is it the harmonica?

And what’s your favorite song — and why is it “Happy Birthday?”


Die-hard fans of Brown’s campus-famous harmonica trio No Harm No Monica have known the answer to these questions since the band’s summer 2021 conception. But harmonicists Dana Herrnstadt ’24, Evan Donnachie ’24 and Emily Wagg ’24 have cemented a legacy on Brown’s campus as its oldest and only harmonica trio.

They specialize in birthday parties. But from squeaky, impassioned musical Valentines to annual NHNM holiday singalongs, the band has forged a cult-like following. It has also created a community through silliness, stage presence and — of course — harmonica skill.

“God, we never could have imagined it would catch on this way,” Herrnstadt said. “If you'd asked us freshman year if we would get this big, we would have been like, so confused.”

Today, NHNM can boast a dedicated group of fans, a whimsical social media presence and a commitment to mediocre harmonica music. Their repertoire, which ranges from “When the Saints Come Marching In” to “Danny Boy,” never fails to evoke joy and laughter from their fans.

As the triad prepares to walk through the Van Wickle gates for the second and final time, they spoke with The Herald about their journey over the years, their fondest memories and what they hope comes next for the harmonica scene on College Hill.

Same key, meant to be: Getting the band together


It was summer 2021. The class of 2024 had nearly completed its second semester at Brown — in July, due to the pandemic — and had at last gotten a taste of a somewhat normal college experience. Though Herrnstadt, Donnachie and Wagg were not yet fully acquainted, they soon would unite through a mutual love for the harmonica.

At a “Christmas in July” party, Donnachie’s friend gifted him a harmonica. 

“The explanation was — ‘I feel like you would just play the harmonica,’” Donnachie said.

Simultaneously and — shockingly — separately, Herrnstadt and Wagg had already discussed the possibility of buying and learning to play harmonicas. Herrstadt had previously met Donnachie through speed friending and a sociology course. She knew Wagg from a geology course. 

Get The Herald delivered to your inbox daily.

Then, they found each other. It was meant to be from the start. 

“All of our harmonicas were in the key of C,” Herrnstadt said.

Before long, the trio sat on the Quiet Green with their harmonicas: one acquired from Christmas in July, the others $10 purple Amazon specials.

The three of them played their very first chord. NHNM couldn’t recall which chord, as the group refused to learn the names of any chords as a matter of practice.

“We're not like a formal group yet,” Herrnstadt explained. “We're just a group of people who all have harmonicas in the same place.”

Until Madeline Canfield ’24 walked by.

“She says, ‘What's going on here?” Herrnstadt recounted. The three responded that they were playing harmonica. Canfield then asked “‘Oh, do you guys have like a group?’ And we were like, I guess so.” 

Canfield asked for a name. The trio didn’t have one, so deliberations began. They landed on the “No Harm” moniker. In hindsight, each of the three thought they had come up with it.

“I think it was me,” Herrnstadt said. 

“Dana says it was her,” Donacchie chimed in.

“I know it was certainly either me or Evan… it was not Emily,” Herrnstadt concurred.

“I didn’t totally think it was me, but I was like... it could have been me,” Wagg laughed.

At the time, they thought of the name as a pun that they didn’t love. The trio planned to employ it as a placeholder until they came up with a better name, Herrnstadt said. They never did. And thus, a legend was born.

The cult of No Harm No Monica: A rise to fame for the birthday band

“People, for some reason, really latched on,” Wagg said. “We had some pretty devoted fans pretty early on. We started getting invited to birthdays.”

She clarified: “Which was to play harmonica, not for social reasons.”

No Harm No Monica quickly made “Happy Birthday” their staple song. They standardized a party routine. First, they entered the party as the cake was cut. They wore statement hats — eventually landing on matching yellow rain hats — and brought their harmonicas to then perform a squeaky rendition of the birthday song. And then as quick as they entered, they departed.

“The best ones are when you can tell like nobody knows what's going on, we run in. And then by the end of their performance, just like smiles on everyone's faces,” Donnachie explained. With every party, more fans joined the fandom of No Harm No Monica.

Sometimes these birthday bashes proved awkward. At one party their sophomore year, Herrnstadt vaguely knew the person who hired the trio for their $3 booking fee. But the trio knew nobody else at the party.

When the party itself came, the student who had hired NHNM for the gig was absent.

“They bring us into the room. No one knew what we were,” Wagg said. “It was like an intimate gathering, it wasn’t a party. They were seniors.”

But the trio persevered, playing their classic song with renewed passion despite the uncomfortable circumstances. “And at the end of that, we have a roomful of new fans,” Wagg said. 

The gig that never was

As NHNM’s star rose, the group decided to take their birthday gigs to the next level in January 2022. What better way than to perform for President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 herself on her birthday?

The three resolved to make it happen, Wagg said, by “cold emailing” Paxson’s husband, Ari Gabinet, and Paxson’s assistant. 

“We plugged our Instagram because we always think it’s important for people to know what they’re getting. We don’t want to mislead people.”

The group had slim hopes that this dream would become a reality — or that they would even receive a response.

But Gabinet exceeded their expectations with an invitation to perform for Paxson at an upcoming dinner for the Brown Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. 

Gabinet “accidentally copied his whole conversation between him and the assistant (in his response). She says, ‘Hi, Ari, hope you're doing well. Any context on this / Chris's opinion on harmonicas?’” Wagg recounted. At some point, Gabinet decided he was sold, according to emails reviewed by The Herald.

It would be NHNM’s biggest gig yet.  

“We decided we were gonna go off book for this,” Wagg said, which the trio had never even attempted to do previously. Gabinet asked if they would play another song in addition to “Happy Birthday.”

The group settled on “My Girl” by The Temptations, a song out of their repertoire and at a “higher skill level than we were used to playing,” Herrnstadt said.

The three practiced daily in the week leading up to the performance, avoiding parties and other social events out of fear of contracting COVID-19. But still, fate intervened. 

Two days before the event, Wagg felt sick but repeatedly tested negative. She chalked up the symptoms to stress. Then a positive test came back. Then Herrnstadt tested positive. Then Donnachie.

“People were heartbroken. Someone even said it was the curse of Monica,” Wagg said. “Obviously that's been a scandal that we've had to deal with.”

NHNM never found out how the Corporation might have reacted to an NHNM performance. But the lead-up and social media discussion was enough to keep the fanbase going.

‘The curse of Monica’: NHNM and their haters

No Harm No Monica has created countless fans. It has also prompted detractors, such as Pro Harm Pro Monica. PHPM’s Instagram bio reads: “Brown’s oldest NoHarmNoMonica hate group. We support all the Monicas and channel all the hate to NoHarmNoMonica.”

“The Pro Harm Pro Monica scandal is tough,” Wagg said. “Every good group has haters.”

“We don't even know who it is. It just cropped up on Instagram called Pro Harm Pro Monica,” Herrnstadt added. The account regularly posts criticism after each NHNM gig. Sometimes, it posts photos of an NHNM member on campus criticizing them for not playing harmonica in a given moment.

The trio explained that PHPM was affiliated with the renegade kazoo group “Kazoom Kaboom” which crashed their holiday sing-along in 2022.

The hate account has only a fraction of NHNM’s following.

“The rumors are that it's a roommate of mine,” Wagg said.

“Trusted sources say that I might be affiliated with it,” said Tierra Sherlock ’24, a follower of NHNM and roommate of Wagg. “I can’t disclose who those sources are.”

Sherlock did not confirm to The Herald that she ran the Pro Harm Pro Monica account. But she said she appreciated PHPM’s values.

“I knew they were starting to rise to some fame — they were dealing well with the spotlight,” Sherlock said. “I wondered … could this group stand the test of some critique.”

Wagg shared that her grandmother had direct-messaged the PHPM account “saying something like, ‘your hate is unjustified. You are so unkind.’ She was a fierce defender of the group.”

The hate account has been dormant for a year now. But the adversity allowed NHNM to mature musically and as a group overall, the trio agreed.

Building community and a collective identity: NHNM’s legacy

Through all the silliness, fallen-through Corporation gigs, Happy Birthdays and hate groups, No Harm No Monica has forged a dedicated fanbase and community — for those in the group and beyond.

“I've had a friend who transferred come up to me after a holiday sing-along and say, ‘This is why I transferred to Brown, essentially because Brown has things like this,’” Herrnstadt said. “Which was really nice.”

The holiday singalongs particularly fostered camaraderie and holiday spirit. “We realized a sing-along is great, one for holiday cheer, for everyone to be singing in community and two, the less they are actively hearing us,” Wagg said.

Wagg, Donnachie and Herrnstadt each emphasized how they never expected the group to make it this far, or develop such a following. The group documented its “Road to Gigs on the Green” in a mockumentary-style Instagram reel, which garnered over 1,800 views.

“We made a decision our first year to promote it via Instagram and live stream it because as much as we have a fan base here, we have fans across the world,” Wagg said, citing the group members’ parents and their parents’ book club friends.

And though the group has always gracefully straddled the line between seriousness and satire, the trio felt No Harm No Monica had meaningfully contributed to their college experience.

“I do genuinely feel like No Harm No Monica has just been like a very fun and silly outlet. And something that I probably wouldn't do outside of Brown,” Wagg said. “It's a very uncomfortable experience to have the three of us play harmonica at you on your birthday. And I think it's fun to do that to other people.”

“This is something I never would have kind of had the guts to do in high school,” Herrnstadt said. “And here I am. Doing it, making a name for ourselves, hanging out with my friends. I'm playing harmonica.”

Donnachie agreed that beyond offering a good conversation starter, No Harm No Monica has been a touchstone of his time at Brown. “I really feel like it has become part of my identity here at Brown. Like, it's always like when people ask about me, it's one of the first things I tell them; I'm a harmonica player,” he said. “It's gonna be weird if I ever play harmonica after college. It won't feel the same.”

“I'm glad that we all were able to just talk about harmonica freshman summer,” Wagg said. “And that Madeline (Canfield) was able to walk by and ask if we were a group.”

The trio had debated holding auditions for new harmonicists to take over following their graduation. But they decided that was not in the spirit of NHNM, resolving for the group to graduate with them.

Then, three juniors studying engineering — Dani Jayinski ’25, Allison Stein ’25 and Becca Martin-Welp ’25 — reached out.

“I think No Harm, No Monica is the spirit and idea more than anything else,” Wagg said. “So if people want to continue this spirit, then we're happy to let them do it.”

Herrnstadt said that while the Brown community has been receptive to NHNM, it speaks to a broader phenomenon in the human spirit. “Brown certainly has helped and making it catch on quickly and widely. I mean, there’s been institutional support and non-institutional support,” Herrnstadt said. “However, I think that there is room in any community for a little bit of No Harm No Monica.”

“To all of our fans, thank you,” she added. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Katy Pickens

Katy Pickens was the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.