I recently did a search on top Nigerian recorder players on Google. Needless to say, no such article exists. This was a different case for pianists and saxophonists. This discovery gave me some concerns. What are the reasons the recorder has such a bad reputation? I asked.
Who would, in Nigeria, be a role model to recorder players in the making who wants to go professional with it? And also, why does the recorder have a bad reputation?
REASONS THE RECORDER HAS BAD REPUTATION
I have been a recorder player for more than a decade and the following are my opinion on this matter.
1. Reputation As ‘Training Instrument’
For a lot of people in Nigeria, a recorder is that instrument children learn in primary school but leave aside as they grow up. This instrument would, because of this, come to be regarded as a “training instrument” in the same way some bicycle riders use training wheels to learn how to ride a bicycle. Is the recorder a training instrument alone? People learn recorder to learn the saxophone, clarinet, flute etc and that already puts it at an unfair disadvantage vis-a-vis these instruments.
READ ALSO: How To Play The Recorder: Tutorial
This is a shame, because none of these instruments share exactly the same technique for playing as the recorder (I should know, I’ve played all three). There are some similarities in fingering, but not in breath control or embouchure (mouth shape). And speaking of technique.
2. Recorder Playing Technique
Because of the recorder’s reputation as a training instrument, the only memories of it are of its squeaky, irritating “beginner’s sound”. This sound is associated with the instrument, largely because it is usually put aside for “real instruments”, but also because getting the right technique is actually harder than with these other instruments.
When people say the recorder is easy to learn, what they usually mean is that it’s easy to produce sound from it even at the beginning (unlike the other instruments) but there is a difference between producing sound and producing the “right” sound.
It’s unfortunate that this never gets explored or learned properly because getting the right grasp on techniques such as breath control/dynamics, fingering techniques and tonguing will go a long way to showing this instrument’s actual expressive range and improve this instrument’s reputation.
But enough about substance, let’s get superficial.
3. The Recorder’s Appearance
The recorder, the saxophone, the flute, the oboe, the clarinet. Put these musical instruments side by side and what do you notice? The recorder is the least eye-catching of the lot and here is my reason.
With the subtle decline of the recorder’s popularity in the classical and romantic periods of European classical music, and the increasing popularity of new instruments like the clarinet, the innovations on the flute and oboe, and even the invention of the saxophone there was little need to innovate with the recorder. All these instruments except the recorder have metal parts or are made of metal. The recorder, unlike the other instruments, is either made almost entirely of wood or entirely of plastic. Not so eye-catching in relation to these other instruments.
However, I’ve got to say that adding keys to the holes of the recorder (an innovation that has already been achieved by some brand recorder makers) would take away one feature of the recorder it has over those other instruments…the glissando (slide).
READ ALSO: A Recorder Players’ View on Modes
ADDITIONAL REASONS THE RECORDER HAS BAD REPUTATION EXISTS
There are other reasons I would have also added. One is the recorder’s history as a medieval instrument. Most of its repertoire of songs are from the medieval and baroque classical times but i won’t include them here as there are other instruments who were prominent at that time, like the flute, that never faded into obscurity because of it.
It is up to those in Nigeria who take up or wish to take up recorder playing professionally to lift the reputation of this instrument the best way we can, with our fingers, with our tongues, with our passion and with our lungs.
So what do you think? Do my reasons on the recorder’s bad reputation cover it all or do you have others? Please let me know in the comments. Thank you.
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Edikan Benson Abia (Fil Harmonix) is a performing recorder player and singer, producer, composer, video editor as well as a piano and recorder instructor. A graduate of the University of Port Harcourt with a B. Sc Biochemistry degree, he would later enroll into, and graduate from, the prestigious Tenstrings Music Institute. He has been a recorder player for more than 10 years now and has been composing since he was 15.