Three or four times a year I have a lengthy dilemma over which musical instrument to specialise in, and this has gone on for the last 20 years. I am one of those people who is simply not content to listen to music, I always want to play it myself – whatever I am into at the time. As a result hundreds of hours of my life have been spent trying to improve on the the clarinet, saxophone, banjo, mandolin, accordion, ukulele, piano and harmonica. This variety attests to two things:
- I do not have much stickability and patience and I get bored and frustrated when I get to the point where real concentration on technique is required in order to progress.
- I am constantly in search of that transcendently versatile single instrument that will enable me to play all the stuff I love. My taste is suspended between the poles of Jazz and Folk music although my LastFM stats reveal that I pretty much listen to more Bach than everything else put together.
By default, the instrument that I am putting my time into is usually governed by the opportunities I am getting to play with others. So I have banjoed from the orchestra pit in musicals, contributed piano and harmonica to a soul/country band, clarinetted in amateur recitals, keyboarded at Church, doumbeked in drum circles, and lately I have been concentrating on harmonica and whistles in my Ceillidh band (The Scrumpy Badgers). However, I have just plunged through my instrumental crisis again in search of the right instrument to accompany me on my journey as a “storyteller”.
To help me, I made up a matrix of all the instruments I play and scored them out of ten for: robustness/portability, ease of maintenance, running cost, playability, current standard of my ability, expressiveness, chromaticism, versatility of styles. The humble recorder came up trumps and offered some additional pros:
- Technique is readily adaptable to other woodwind instruments.
- I have a thing about the spiritual significance of breath, breathing and wind.
- It capitulates to the fact that a preponderance of Renaissance and Baroque music has been appearing in my playlists recently.
- Recorders are reasonably cheap although I’m already coveting an expensive model.
- Although most of us are familiar with the descant recorders we learned to play in school, there are a range of other, bigger, instruments to choose from.
- I managed to pick up a tenor recorder in a local charity shop for £15 when they usually cost about £50.
- It has an appropriately evocative, mysterious, ethereal sound that goes well with my “Borders of Sleep” storytelling persona.
- There is something I love about taking a simple and humble, often despised instrument and making something out of it.
- There is plenty of fun potential for ensemble playing.
- Masters like Frans Brüggen prove just what wonders can be achieved:
So … move over, Mister Tumnus, there’s a new kid in Narnia!