Back to School: I’m learning the recorder …

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Move over Mister Tumnus!

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:

  1. Technique is readily adaptable to other woodwind instruments.
  2. I have a thing about the spiritual significance of breath, breathing and wind.
  3. It capitulates to the fact that a preponderance of Renaissance and Baroque music has been appearing in my playlists recently.
  4. Recorders are reasonably cheap although I’m already coveting an expensive model.
  5. 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.
  6. I managed to pick up a tenor recorder in a local charity shop for £15 when they usually cost about £50.
  7. It has an appropriately evocative, mysterious, ethereal sound that goes well with my “Borders of Sleep” storytelling persona.
  8. There is something I love about taking a simple and humble, often despised instrument and making something out of it.
  9. There is plenty of fun potential for ensemble playing.
  10. Masters like Frans Brüggen prove just what wonders can be achieved:

So … move over, Mister Tumnus, there’s a new kid in Narnia!

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9 Responses

  1. Please progress in time to the Treble, not Tenor. It is so much more beautiful!

    • Yes, I thought the treble would suit my hands a bit better and would be able to be better heard in a folk setting, but it was tenor that came my way first as an answered prayer. I’ll keep an eye open for an affordable treble. Hold that Telemann for a year or two until I have achieved a greater standard of mastery. I’ve just been dinking around with the stuff we used to play together like The Raggle Taggle Gypsies and The Irish Washerwoman 🙂

      Hope we can see you soon (break out the duets). Yes I think it was that week in October that I mentioned but I need to speak to Katherine about it again and we have been passing like ships in the night for the last week.

      • I’ve been playing The Irish Washerwoman on my triple row diatonic accordion. I’ve never tried the recorder. I think if I try to learn an instrument you blow into, it will be the clarinet, whose tone I find intoxicating.

      • A three row diatonic? I assume it has three rows of buttons tuned to different diatonic scales. Does that make it fully chromatic?

        Yes – the clarinet is quite wonderful … in the hands of a good player. Unfortunately my clarinet needs re-padding and I have balked at the expense of having it serviced.

    • Isn’t the treble in “F” and won’t that be slightly annoying?

  2. Oh and I have the music for that piece of Telemann, somewhere.

  3. I’ve just seen your query about the Treble being in “F”. Recorders are chromatic, my friend!

    • I know that! I thought it might be in “F” as in being a transposing instrument. I have since discovered that it is simply a case of learning different fingering from the descant which is not too bad considering it is very similar fingering to the chalumeau register on the clarinet. However, it is not easy to find music that works on the treble unless it has been written specifically for the instrument or transposed because you can’t go below F (that’s the annoying bit).

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