Friday, January 08, 2010

Once upon a time I was a little girl who played music. I started soprano recorder and viola in fourth grade, and tenor recorder in fifth grade. I stopped playing recorder when I started junior high, and quit viola when I started high school. I was tired of practicing, had too many other things going on, and was tired of practicing (did I mention I was tired of practicing?), so I didn't continue. But for quite a while there, I was happy making music. I played in school orchestras, a couple ensembles at various points, and even went to music day camp a couple summers.

Recorder was always a secondary instrument to me; I only played in school because everyone had to (though taking up tenor and playing in the recorder ensemble was extra), and though I enjoyed it I never really pursued it. Viola was what I was interested in. I felt like musician, like I was good at something. I'm sure there was plenty of screechy cacophony involved, but my parents put up with it and I think I did eventually achieve some level of competence on the viola by the time I quit.

Fast forward. I am 38 years old, and I haven't picked up a recorder since I was 13. I haven't been remotely musical for more than a quarter century, yet this has consumed me for the past six days:

It all started innocently enough. Emma is in public school now. They had a holiday program. The third graders played their recorders. It was squeaky. Kind of painful, actually. But it got me thinking, and more importantly, it got Emma thinking. I told her that I played recorder when I was little, and she asked if she could try, too.

Of course I said YES, and that we would look for my sister's and my old recorders when we went to visit Grandpa for Christmas, and we could play together. Unfortunately, my dad just moved from Maine to Kansas, and almost everything was still packed in boxes when we were there for Christmas. I know just where they were in his old house, but we couldn't find the right box in the stacks in his garage in Kansas. I'm sure they're there somewhere, but I searched with no luck.

Emma flitted off onto another tangent almost immediately, and didn't seem to care that much, but the bug had been planted in my brain. That's why, when Emma and I were in TheMegaStoreOfDoom, Volde-Mart, or, as I fondly think of it, "Empire of Evil" (OK I'll stop, I think you get the picture), last Sunday, she saw these hanging from a shelf and shrieked "They have recorders, Mommy!!", I was powerless.

Unfortunately, the pink ones were sold out. I bought these for $1.00 each and I have to tell you, they are worth every penny with plenty of change left over. Seriously, the tone on these is dreadful. Do not buy one.

I played mine (the green one) for almost six hours on Sunday night, despite the bad sound. I googled around and found this free tutorial online and went though most of it that night, because I. Could. Not. Stop. I think I was up until about 1:00. I sort of ignored the sound and concentrated on the fingering. Luckily Shaun was out of town for a conference and was not subjected to the torture that is the green recorder. Emma didn't mind because she doesn't know any better, and was just impressed that I was playing.

However, I do know better. While I don't have perfect pitch, I can tell when something is out of tune and wrong. It just sounds off to me, and these toy recorders are serious nerve-graters. Before I went to bed that first night, I had already placed an order for a real recorder.

I continued to play the green one Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, even though it sounded terrible, and so was exceedingly grateful when the real one arrived yesterday. Yay for fast-shipping eBay sellers!

I got a Yamaha 24B resin recorder. It's a student recorder, not anything outstanding, and pretty much what I learned to play on in 1980. This one cost a whole $4.45 plus $2 shipping. However, that tiny step up in price made a world of difference. It sounds like an instrument, not a outraged mosquito on crack.

The main thing I was looking forward to, aside from, you know, in-tune notes, was this:

See how the lowest set of holes is offset on the new one, as opposed to in line with the rest like on the green one? These are the holes that you cover with your right pinky finger. Well, with the green one, I couldn't even reach those lowest holes with my pinky unless I contorted my whole right hand and strained my other fingers. I don't know if I have freakishly short pinkies or what, but it wasn't happening. And even if I did get all the holes covered, the low C still wouldn't play five times out of ten. So too with the rest of the notes- random squeaking, some notes flat, some sharp, and some off by a whole tone. Ugly. I managed for four days, but it took effort.

The new recorder is made in three pieces (the green one is all one piece), and the bell at the bottom can be turned so that the lowest holes can be reached easily. The tone is a thousand times better, and I can play all the notes with ease. Well, the highest ones still take good breath control, but at least they are do-able! The tone is sweet, and richer, and in tune.

Actually, why am I even comparing these two? The green one is not an instrument, it is a cheap plastic piece of junk that is only useful for children to annoy their parents with. The new one isn't top of the line, but it is a real instrument.

I told Emma that once she can play Mary Had a Little Lamb on her orange one, she can have the white one and I'll get another for me. She hasn't done much so far, but we did do little copy-me exercise this afternoon with three notes.

I guess the point is that I surprised myself this week. I picked up an instrument again after 25 years, and I can do it! Reading music came back to me fairly easily, and I am really enjoying myself. I don't know if it will last, but I'm having gobs of fun now, and I think once Emma starts learning it will be fun to play together. Even if she doesn't play at all until third grade, when they start in school, I can wait.


Caroline M said...

My son goes to music school on a Saturday morning and the various recorder groups played at one of the concerts. I was amazed at the richness of sound when played well, all I've ever heard are screechy school recorders. They had the tiny ones, the bigger ones (tenor?) and the ones that look more like oboes (bass?) and they were a pleasure to listen to.

I am not musical in the least but I can listen.

Lauren said...

So glad to see you posting regularly again! I'm generally a major lurker but I wanted to tell you that I'm on a similar mission with getting in touch with a wind instrument I have not played in ~15 years. I've been lazy about picking up a part, but damn it I'm going to go get this afternoon! I look forward to hearing about your fun with the recorder.

rustyconc said...

Awesome post! We both killed our selves laughing at several points... and Corbin joined in with a coupla shrieks. Don't think I'll be taking up the Ukelele any time soon though - that was my school enforced childhood 'instrument'. Although, if the little guy wanted to... wow, the power of children.

Death to Volde-Mart.

Cady May said...

Thank you for this! Even though I am a decade older than you, I, too remember fondly my recorder days. My SO is a Professional musician in Nashville (with a capital P) which has squelched any urge of mine to whip out my amateur skills to enjoy them, but your post made me rethink this. It IS about creating your own music, regardless of how squeaky. Are we not related to the sparrow, after all? So, your post made me dust off an Alto recorder from my high school hippy days, and I had a lovely, lovely time with it and now I am off to explore your tutorial link. THANK YOU!

cyndy said...

Just like riding a bike ;-)

Now my question...(since you read music and weave) you think you could create a weaving pattern from a song? I've read lots about this, and always wondered how to adapt the notes into a weft pattern.

There are a few articles about weaving music in an old copy of Shuttle/Spindle/Dyepot that you might find interesting.

yoko said...

Glad to hear that both you and Emma are interested in playing recorder. Indeed, the Yamaha is what I had recommended to students, way back when, when I taught recorder lessons. I think I still have mine somewhere, but I have also moved, so I'm not sure where mine is.

Happy music-making!

PJ said...

Ha! what a discussion of memories! I never did the recorder thing...our schools started band in 5th grade...I went right to trumpet! (all the way to 12th! with addition of flute and clarinet) I almost tried out to Navy band, but didn't... your support in this is great!

Renee said...

Good for you! You've made me wonder about my old recorder from school. I used to like that thing (so much so that my brothers once dissembled it and tossed the pieces in the fish tank to get me to stop playing).

Liz said...

Sue, this is so great! I, too, remember my recorder days fondly, and you're inspiring me to look into it again. What is the winter for, otherwise?
Sorry about the reduction in your hours, but at least you have more time in the kitchen (craisins!) and to practice your recorder. :)

Claire said...

I played recorder up until I went to university! Now you've got me thinking about taking it up again.