Years ago, a friend of mine described playing oboe as “trying to blow a swizzle stick out a mosquito’s butt.” I know now what that means, because putting a saxophone’s worth of air through a recorder is a bit like that.
I’ve reached the end-of-the-road with my Little Wooden Friend Geknackt. Geknackt, if you don’t know, is my vintage ’70’s Dolmetsch alto recorder, who has been alongside me on quite an adventure this summer. My trusty friend was there with me at the Amherst Early Music Festival in July, when I experienced a near-biblical conversion into the world of early music and historical performance practice. I have practiced this instrument every day since. I was accepted as a student into the studio of a magnificent teacher, and now have two similarly magnificent new altos on trial loan from Boston’s Von Huene workshop. This new purchase means that my Dolmetsch will be retired – shelved, but not discarded.
It seemed right to bid my LWF adieu with a crazy video. After all, it was our first video “together” that got me started down this whole road. The tune here is Tico-Tico no fubá, a Brazilian choro song which literally means “Sparrow in the Cornmeal.” My articulation here sounds a little bit like a sparrow trapped in cornmeal. BUT – if you can somehow disregard the terrible hand/arm position and the even worse articulation, perhaps you can imagine that I spent FOREVER playing this tune. It involves more chromaticism than all of the Handel I’ve been working on. So, adios Gekanckt, and thanks for a summer of good times.
Two significant developments in my Recorder Universe this week, friends!
This post marks my 12th week of daily recorder playing, and my third lesson. My (amazing!) teacher has been patiently walking me through a discussion of Baroque ornamentation. My ignorance of accurate performance practice leaves me frustrated that modern saxophone editions have so often pre-ordained these choices for me. I have also been listening to/playing along with so much Frans Brüggen that now I think I am just copying his choices instead of understanding them. I have a wonderful assignment with one of the slow Handel sonata movements — to oversaturate it in different ways with French, then Italian and then German ornamentation styles. Not gonna be able to copy a Brüggen recording for that! We’ll see how it goes – perhaps my attempts will be the subject of a future post.
HOWEVER (drum roll, please……) the big news of the week is that I was notified on Tuesday that my Sabbatical application was accepted! Yes, friends, the opportunity for dedicated research time will be upon me beginning in January 2020. Why write about my sabbatical leave here in this recorder vlog, you ask? Well because the topic of my leave IS TO STUDY RECORDER FULL-TIME!! Peale the bells! Release the ticker tape! Have an ice cream sundae for dinner! You have no idea how excited I am for this opportunity. Considering I’ve been doggedly shoving my recorder practice into the 6-7am and 11-12pm hours since school started, the thought of having more dedicated, daily practice time makes me crazy-excited. Very thankful for the chance to take such a plunge, and pretty fired up to see how things develop in the year leading up to it!
All of this feels a bit like the cosmic-super-collider is shoving my “real life” a little bit closer to the Recorder Universe. That the college has validated my pursuit of a new performance endeavor is very meaningful to me. That I included a description of this vlog as a side-project in the sabbatical application (NO I DIDN’T?…….OH YES I DID!) is also meaningful. Loosely tying this vlog to a professional pursuit means several things: (First) I will continue to stubbornly cling to it (Second) I will have no choice but to raise the standard of quality! (Third, and most meaningful) It facilitates an earnest exploration of the benefits I suspect are inherent here, that may ultimately produce new ideas for how to use media in instrument pedagogy. I’ve 14 months until #SABBATICAL2020, so extra fuel now to PLAY ON!
Yesterday was a double-whammy-of-recorder-goodness! First – I had my second lesson, and my teacher very graciously allowed me to play on some of her best instruments! It was easy to both feel and hear that I would be able to more easily work on sound production/tone issues with a better quality instrument. My poor 1970’s Dolmetsch (complete with super-glued crack!) is sadly limiting. She encouraged me to consider an upgrade! Second – I sat in my first consort reading session! A new colleague of mine at my College just so happens to be a very talented recorder player. How’s that for serendipity? He kindly invited me to sit in, and it was SO MUCH FUN playing with other humans. [Aside: I played my bass for the second time in my entire life, and read bass-clef badly.] I hope I am able to attend again.
As I mention in this post, I was recently reading some of the many music-related entries by the famous 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys. On Thursday, the 27th of February 1667, Pepys attended a staging of the Thomas Dekker/Philip Massinger play “The Virgin Martyr.” He said of the music:
“But that which did please me beyond any thing in, the whole world was the wind-musique when the angel comes down, which is so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick.”
This is what recorder music does to me, friends!! I’ve been listening to so many Frans Brüggen recordings, and they are so beautiful that they literally make me feel a weird kind of sick. In a good way. Good sick. But complete with a touch of melancholy sadness. Describing this isn’t making any sense! At any rate, I’m at 60-some days in a row of practice, and my enthusiasm only grows. Thanks for reading, and PLAY ON!
It was “back to school” week, and I’m here to report that I survived the first week of classes.
I managed to somehow squeeze everything in: daily recorder practice, class prep, teaching, and my new twice-weekly commute into center city Philadelphia (where I am teaching a class on the history of the city’s arts/culture/museum life). As a by-product of the latter, as this video explains, I discovered a bounty of recorder music at the Free Library of Philadelphia! You never know until you L@@K!!
This week’s video caused me a bit of grief! As I usually do, I posted this on my Facebook feed before making this post here. Well, someone out there in FB universe notified me that my music-making here was too sloppy for public consumption. In frustration and embarrassment, I deleted the post. [Then, if I recall correctly, I drowned my sorrows in a homemade banana split made at 11:30pm.]
After a few days of thought, however, I decided to still post here. This project, after all, is about a PROCESS rather than a PRODUCT. It aims to demonstrate incremental change over a long-term, flaws (and there are LOTS of them!) and all. This is where I am today, or at least where I was on Friday, August 31st, 2018. Thanks for watching and play on!
The upside: My lesson was amazing.
The downside: I can no longer hide behind the fact that I’m learning “on my own.”
No, it’s not another van Eyck post, it’s a back-to-school post!
[aside #1 – I will discuss Anglicized pronunciation in a future post, however, I do want to say here that I recently learned it is perhaps correct to say “fahn-ECK” rather than the commonly-used-in-the-US “van-EYEk.”)
I think my sobriety in this post says it all, so I won’t write on at length here. By this time next week, I’ll be back in the classroom (as a teacher) and back in the practice room (as a recorder student)!
[aside #2 – I recorded this in the amazingly resonant lobby of the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center. Ambient reverb = <3!!]
Music here is #12. “d’Lof-zangh Marie” from Der Fluyten Lust-hof by Jacob van Eyck (1590-1657). (Winfried Michel and Hermien Teske, eds., Amadeus, 1984)
“Champion Risk Taking” is a phrase that is included in my College’s current Strategic Plan. “Live your authentic life” is a message I relentlessly hammer home to students. I want to embody my own pursuit of these ideals as a model for the young people I am so lucky to mentor. All of that said, after a week-long period of confinement to long tones, and the tink-tink-tink of the little white box beating out eighth notes at 80 bpm, I realized I have to find a middle way.
My authentic self is a free spirit, a gal who drives a muscle car (sometimes too fast) and loves the spontaneity of jazz music more than most things in life. That said, I do completely understand the necessity of discipline in a practice routine. All of this to say I had to find a middle way. Can I spend all of my time “playing through” music that I like, without giving imperative time/attention/study to playing in tune, learning scales, exploring all things proper performance practice — capital NO. But can I contain my verve for this instrument by demarcating as off-limits all of the (endless list of amazing) pieces that are too hard/require better technique than I have/ require more knowledge of ornamentation than I currently have/have notes in extreme registers that I don’t have facility on yet/the list goes on – no, I can’t. Middle way = rudiment hour first, happy-but-often-terrible-sounding reading session hour after.
My struggle with this issue raises so many pedagogy-related questions for me. Does my situation illustrate the importance of including musical examples with which students are familiar/enjoy in ANY music syllabus? If I cram endless examples by Hildegard, Gesualdo, Machaut, Sun Ra (whoa style shift), Art Tatum [all of whom I love and could listen to all day, but I think you get the point] – do my students feel as stifled as I do only practicing rudiments? Maybe. Can they benefit from the kind of unstructured, haphazard “playtime” that I feel the need to explore on recorder? Also maybe. Right now I have more questions than answers. However, (and as much as I hate to quote Natasha Bedingfield) I do remember these words from Unwritten, and they resonate with me:
“I break tradition. Sometimes my tries are outside the lines. We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes. Oh, but I can’t live that way.”
Have a great day, and play on!
I got a friendly-but-necessary ass-kick recently, about the importance of rudimental technique (and that, frankly, I didn’t have any). Did I think that 30+ years of saxophone playing somehow allowed me to go tearing through Telemann’s recorder sonatas before engaging in rudimental practice? Maybe so, but after only a few days of disciplined work (yes, actually “practicing” for reals for the first time…..) I started to realize that until this point, I actually was (however earnestly) only dabbling. I hugely ate crow, and I’m a vegetarian, so it was extra icky.
As a college music teacher, I bemoan this ALL THE TIME. Students often want to, for example, compose before they’ve studied counterpoint. Jazz players often want to play amazing improvisations before they’ve studied patterns or sound conception. And so — UGH — I realized I now embodied that impetuousness. They are, of course, called “foundations” for a reason, and we all need them to support any new endeavor. Is it still amazingly fun? YOU BET. Is there an ass-load of work ahead? Also yes. Crow eaten, humble pie served.
[Note: A fun by-product of practicing long-tones over a drone occurred on my discovery that recorder — when actually played in tune — creates amazing resultant overtones in your ear. No saxophoning ever created an equivalent to this miniature piece of acoustical magic.]