Recorder

Apr. 24th, 2017 01:20 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
So the wonderful amazing [personal profile] ghoti_mhic_uait gave me a proper alto recorder as an afikoman present. I am slightly awkward about it because an actual musical instrument is a bit bigger than the sorts of things my family generally expect as Passover presents – it's a gift-giving occasion, yes, but it's not anything like on the scale of Christmas. But I am also really really happy, it's the most absolutely perfect present.

My parents aren't particularly musical, but they come from the sort of background where making sure your children get music tuition is expected. So my dad got a more knowledgeable colleague to help him pick out a piano and we ended up with one of rather better quality than most not very talented primary school kids get to practise on. And we had piano lessons with a nice lady who came to our house and was super patient when we were haphazard about practising. And also did a sterling job of explaining Western music history to a curious Jewish kid who needed a lot of Christian background culture unpacking. I mainly remember being completely bemused by the concept of "perfect" time where 3/4 time signatures are more holy, because more trinitarian, than 4/4.

I probably started piano lessons too early, in some ways; I know that there's value in teaching very young children music when their brains are still plastic enough to learn easily, but the piano is hard, and I didn't have much discipline. My lessons weren't supplemented by ever listening to music, because my congenitally deaf mother can't really hear recorded music and my father chose not to play it in the house out of respect to her, so my brain didn't in fact get accustomed to what music was supposed to sound like. I did get one real benefit, though: by the time I started doing group music lessons at school, I could already read music. At six or so, I was running smack into the horrible discovery that I really can't sing in tune, and that therefore people find my singing unpleasant to listen to, which I've been sad about ever since. But when I was handed a descant recorder, the standard way that schools in middle-class areas used to introduce children to music, I wasn't the worst in the class any more. And I sometimes got to participate in ensemble playing, and sometimes was allowed to play the instrumental backup in shows, instead of always being asked to keep quiet while the more musical children were singing.

For some reason I persisted with piano lessons, though I didn't have any particular love for playing. It was just what you did, I think. And when I went into secondary school I started having lessons with a peripatetic teacher who gave lessons on school premises during school lunchtimes. After several years of weekly lessons throughout primary school, I was good enough that I could actually play pieces that sounded pleasant to my own ears, and started to play for my own enjoyment rather than because an adult told me to. Those piano lessons were really really good for me, because the teacher completely understood that I never going to be any kind of musical performer, not even an amateur one, but saw music as worthwhile for its own sake. So she helped me to develop my own musical tastes, and to start to interpret music beyond just playing the correct notes in the correct order. And more importantly, she taught me the meta-skills of how to practise, how to work at a physical skill, how to deal with something that required work before I could get it even partly right, and how to fail. (I failed a lot of music exams because even as a piano player there's always an oral section which requires you to be able to sing in tune.) Given I was a ridiculous academic over-achiever, this stuff was immensely good for me. I don't think we knew the terms in those days, but it was a total growth mindset thing. I didn't have my self-worth tied up with being "good at" piano or getting high marks in exams, but I did learn that if you practised properly you could turn an ugly sound into a pleasing sound, and that was more direct, real feedback than any amount of praise or A grades.

I also learned flute for a little while, mainly because I like the sound of flutes. I didn't hate it, but also didn't really get anywhere with it; having 10 years of experience in piano fingering and knowing music theory leapfrogged me over the really steep part of the learning curve, and my teachers were perfectly nice and supportive, but I never really got deeply into it. And I had singing lessons, which my parents very kindly arranged in order to try to correct my problems with carrying a tune. In fact I learned a whole wide range of very other useful skills around vocal technique, and fell in love with Fauré and otherwise got a really good grounding in choral music, and my singing teacher was the first person I ever came out to (in the context of singing love songs addressed to beautiful women). I never really fixed the problem with singing in tune, maybe got a bit less terrible, but the singing benefited me in quite different ways from the one it was intended to help with.

So when we did ensemble music, I still wasn't allowed to sing, even in the chorus, and generally the music teacher did the actual piano accompaniment so piano wasn't an option. But I was classified as one of the musical girls, since I was having music lessons on three different instruments, and struggling through my music grades albeit not very brilliantly. Which meant I was supposed to play a "proper" instrument rather than being relegated to the triangle. And that defaulted to being the alto recorder, which was considered slightly more prestigious than the mere descant.

When I left school, I wanted to keep up with piano, but pianos are not very readily available when you're living the transient student life. And also not very suitable for just casual music making with friends, since a piano usually isn't available, and also because for some pigheaded reason I'd spent all my time learning to play classical solos not very well, rather than picking up more sociable skills such as accompanying or improvising. My little sister ended up taking our childhood piano; she isn't an academic, so she settled down in a permanent home of her own with space for it much earlier than I did.

So for the last 20 years I've had this regret that, still being unable to sing well enough to subject other people to my voice, I can't really join in with people who are playing and singing together. I mean, I sometimes do anyway, because I agree with the philosophical idea that everybody should be able to make music even if they're not very good at it, and sometimes people don't mind if I'm out of tune. But it's always a huge effort to push the embarrassment at how terrible I sound, and it's not very internally satisfying when I sound bad to my own ears, no matter how tolerant and supportive my lovely friends are. And I've always had in the back of my mind that getting back into recorder is probably the solution to this. Recorders are portable, and I can direct my efforts towards playing things like song accompaniments rather than more showy solo stuff, and a recorder is fairly easy to keep in tune even if you don't have a good sense of pitch.

But I have never quite dared to do this. It's sort of hard to say why; if I verbalize it it's something like, I don't deserve to have a musical instrument cos I'm no good at music. But that is complete nonsense when I take it out and examine it; there's not a limited supply of musical instruments, I'm not depriving anyone more talented than I am if I play the recorder too. Anyway, my girlfriend giving me a recorder as a present completely broke down all the completely irrational blocks that were getting in the way of playing. And now I'm playing music again!

It's hard to describe just how happy this is making me. It seems I got far enough with recorder and more general musical skills that even after 20-year gap, I can pick up the instrument again and more or less play. I still have a muscle memory for what to do with my mouth and fingers, and I know, oh, after all those wonderful just for its own sake piano lessons I know, how to take a piece of music and learn it until I can play it recognizably.

Also we're living in the future and the internet has all the music available. I found a bunch of websites with beginners' tunes, nursery rhymes and folk songs and so on, and then [personal profile] ghoti_mhic_uait pointed me to the amazing Petrucci library which contains masses and masses of scores of stuff that's in the public domain. It's a bit hard to search, I still haven't quite managed to get it to spit out just recorder solos rather than everything that has a recorder involved at all. So I've been playing a Händel Sonata (Opus 1 #11 in F major) and I've nearly got it apart from a few tricky fast passages, so that it actually sounds like Händel and not a bunch of unconnected notes. And there's a Telemann piece I'm starting on too...

And I'm allowed to play the recorder. Just like I learned with piano all those years ago, I don't have to be a brilliant performing soloist, I can just play because I want to. And with work, with amazingly satisfying work, better than any video game, I can get to the point where my playing sounds at least pleasant. But I do in fact want to focus on more social sorts of playing, not learning a bunch of sonatas to a mediocre standard.

So does anyone have any recs of social sorts of music? Melodies of songs, perhaps, or even something aimed directly for people who want to play recorder to accompany singers? The readthrough people have a songbook, right, with dots in? Would it be possible to obtain a copy? I'm happy to pay for music but I'm spoilt for choice so I need some ideas first. And I am somewhat interested in online tutorials though I think I can mostly learn fine just by practising pieces, cos it turns out I know how do that. I like baroque music a lot, and there happens to be quite a lot available for recorder, but I am not wedded to only playing baroque, any style is fine, and I'm quite positively interested in recorder versions of pop music, if that exists. (And if it's set for descant, well, all that rusty music theory means that I do in fact know how to transpose.)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-04-24 01:13 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
Folk clubs might be some of the way to go.

In informal mixed singing, playing along with the vocal alto line might often be the most helpful thing you can do -- especially if there aren't many confident altos. The transposition may be a pain at first, but it'll do your sightreading good.

There may well be courses/weekends/clubs/groups etc for grown-up recorder enthusiasts.

I don't have much to contribute in terms of recommendations other than that, having only played recorder in student ensembles that didn't get very far. I do have a treble, so if you happen across any duets and want to play together sometime, and don't mind me stumbling horribly over my fingering, let me know.

I am so very glad you have an instrument to play again. :-)

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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