“Why is it called a recorder when it doesn’t record?” I wondered as the unmistakable sound of recorders reached my ears. We were on our way home from church, and the car radio was playing a Baroque concerto.
Later, a computer search showed that recorder is from the Latin word recordari, to remember, or to know by heart (re: again, plus cor: heart). The recorder got this name when it appeared in the 1400s because it was considered easy to play, and thus a good instrument for children. (The use of the word record [meaning to practice] continues among ornithologists describing birds learning their calls: “The young males continue recording for eleven months”—Charles Darwin, 1871.)
The recorder is like a whistle, getting its sound solely from the player’s breath. The player uses finger holes to change the pitch. This makes for a simple instrument, but a difficult one to play, as everything depends on a controlled flow of the breath.
The most familiar type of recorder is the soprano, but it comes in many sizes. The sub-contrabass recorder is eight feet in length, and requires a long, tube-shaped mouthpiece. At the other extreme is the Garklein, a high-pitched recorder only six inches long.
Although the recorder went out of fashion in the 19th century (replaced by the flute), it made a comeback in the past 50 years, in both classical and popular genres. My first encounter with it was not in a concerto, but in The Beatles’ song “Fool on the Hill,” where Paul McCartney played it.
- The American Recorder Society Education Program, Braille Study Guide (BRM35914)
- Folksongs from Old New England (BRM35715)
- A Garland of Melodies for Treble Recorder, arr. by Bernard Bramley (BRM22564)
- How to Play the Recorder, Book 1, arr. by M. Bradford (BRM17905)
- Recorder Anthology (BRM35956)
- Recorder Fingering Chart (BRM35288)
- Sing, Dance and Play, arr. by Marion Berry and Freda Dinn (BRM11481)
- Enjoy Your Recorder, by the von Trapp Family Singers (BRM35284; also available in large print at LPM00106).
Digital Talking Book
- Classical Dances, Performance and Commentary (DBM00181)
- Come, the Recorders: for Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass Recorders in Various Combinations, arr. by Raymond Kane McLain (LPM00103)
- Five Thirteenth Century Pieces (LPM107)