All My Blockflöte (Recorders)

IM001168It’s all my grandmother’s fault, really. My mom’s mom, Mitzi Langemann, who came over from Germany in the 1920’s, and taught her girls to appreciate all things German, a lesson my mom passed on to me.

One year when I was in my very early teens, we made our annual pilgrimage from Somewhere Out West to visit Oma Mitzi in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Grandma Alice in Menominee, Michigan. And this year I brought along the newest of my prized possessions— a plastic recorder and a book on how to play it.

Oma must have heard me playing, and she gave me a wooden recorder that she’d brought over from Germany on one of her trips in the fifties. She said it came from Cousin Margret. Cousin Margret said it wasn’t hers. (Cousin Margret’s husband died very recently, so any prayers are appreciated.) Anyway, I got the recorder, and loved it even more than my plastic one, even though it was harder to play— a couple of the notes just didn’t sound quite right. It was years later that I discovered that my German recorder had German fingering, while my plastic recorder had Baroque/English fingering (also called Israeli fingering if you’re in Israel), and my instruction book presumed all recorders had Baroque fingering.

I played that recorder as my favorite for years, only replacing it in 2008. Here is a picture of it:

IM001171When I spent a year abroad in Germany, I managed to get a book of German folk songs for the soprano recorder. Noticing that the soprano recorder got no respect compared to the alto recorder, I bought an alto recorder— also with German fingering, now that I knew the difference. But I never got a book of instruction for the alto recorder, and mostly just played it as if it were a soprano recorder.

Now, in about 2008 I decided that my old German soprano recorder was getting too old and frail to be played much any more, so I decided to replace it. I did some research and decided that I’d really be better off with Baroque fingering, which was the original fingering for the recorder anyway. So I hied me away to Ebay and got me some more soprano recorders. The top picture on the page shows my entire collection of soprano recorders. Left to right they are:

1. My German recorder from Oma, German fingering.

2. Pearwood Mollenhauer 1042d Student, baroque fingering.

3. Selcol plastic recorder, does not play well, baroque fingering.

4. Dolmetch, plastic recorder from England, baroque fingering, nice.

5. Yamaha YRS-312B III, baroque fingering. A highly recommended plastic recorder.

6. Aulos 103J, plastic, baroque fingering, plays very well.

7. Aulos 703B, plastic, baroque fingering, Another highly recommended plastic recorder.

8. Peripole Angel Soprano Halo model PB6000, baroque fingering.

9. Concerti brand, made in Italy, German (or Italian?) fingering.

The recorder is available in many sizes in addition to soprano— they are: garklein, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and great bass. All are chromatic instruments, but garklein, soprano, tenor and great bass are said to be in C, while the rest are in F. Because of this, I became interested in acquiring a tenor recorder during my 2008 recorder buying adventures— it uses the same fingerings I already know from the soprano. My final picture shows my recorder collection including my ‘big boys’:

IM001170The alto recorders are on the left. The first is Tudor brand plastic model with baroque fingering I got in an Ebay auction together with a tenor. The second is my German Moeck-brand alto of pearwood with German fingering.

My tenors are pictured below the sopranos. The top is an Aulos plastic tenor, baroque fingering, which I got with the Tudor alto. The Aulos plays very well though it requires more wind and is harder on the fingers. The lower tenor is a Mollenhauer of some dark wood, baroque fingering. It’s harder to play than the Aulos, plus the lowest note does not seem to play.

I also have a Heinrich brand wooden tenor recorder, but that one is somewhat of a problem and I didn’t unpack it to photograph it. It also has problems with the lowest note not playing, and is harder to play (fingers need to be wider apart), like the Mollenhauer rather than the Aulos plastic.

My personal experience on wood versus plastic recorders— on the sopranos, plastic recorders become hoarse-sounding after playing a while because of accumulating moisture. But on the tenor recorder, this does not seem to be a problem, so I’d recommend a good Aulos plastic tenor recorder (or Woodnote?) for anyone who wants to give the tenor recorder a try.

My recorder family is expecting some new arrivals soon— a garklein and a sopranino. I’ve also purchased a book— FINALLY— which gives instruction in the F-recorders (alto, sopranino).  I’m particularly looking forward to the garklein— it’s TINY— only six inches— and therefore difficult to play, especially if you have large fingers.

This is my take on the whole recorder experience: recorders don’t get any respect because so many people learn about them as a instrument for unmusical children to study in Europeanish elite schools. But they are fine little instruments— and economical. When I was looking at the fine wooden recorders of the good brands, at the level a musician would buy, they cost a few hundred dollars for the soprano and more for the larger— about the price of a cheap, crappy band instrument. And the best plastic soprano recorders— the kind real musicians might use as a practice instrument— are twenty to thirty dollars. Music for the poor, in other words.