Recorder Week 5: On Finding a Middle Way (and quoting Natasha Bedingfield)


“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!


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