Recorder in the Orff Classroom

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Why should we teach recorder?

The recorder is an integral part of the Off Instrumentarium. It is an elemental wind instrument that children learn to reinforce their understanding of breath control, phrasing, tuning, tonality, dexterity, self control, listening, and adds another texture to the instrumentarium.

Curt Sachs, an eminent ethnomusicologist of Orff’s time, suggested to him that he should use the recorder as a melody instrument to his percussion. Carl Orff had heard of Dolmetsch, and began to explore and compose extensively for the recorder, developing it as a melodic instrument within, what was to become, the Orff Schulwerk ensemble. The melodic line played on the recorder is particularly useful to accompany dance, Keetman composed a prolific number of pieces to develop her great passion for this part of the Schulwerk.

Carl Orff was fascinated with the idea of including a quartet of recorders, “ the fact that these instruments were not too difficult to play was an advantage that was not to be over looked.” However I would argue that, that does not mean the complexities of playing the instrument well are dismissed.

Most cultures in the world began their musical journey not just with singing, but often playing a simple wind instrument, for example: the pan flutes of South America, penny whistle of Ireland, bag pipes of Scotland, snake charmers of India, shô of Japan… the list is endless. Often the people that played these instruments were highly regarded in the court of the king or emperor of the time.

The wind instrument takes on many nuances depending on the culture, sometimes used to entertain or it had a special ceremonial significance,such as the didgeridoo, but the fundamental significance of its place within man’s evolution, remains the same. The beating of the drum and the playing of the pipes was often what led men into battle, there is a fundamental link between mans need for ceremony in daily life and in times of crisis and his need to accompany the procedure with plain song or drum beats or a blown pipe, something other than words that might lift his spirits and mind to a higher place. This was very evident in the battle scenes in the latest Hobbit movie.

These events can also be seen in religious ceremony. Such occasions as the rite of passage for young men within a culture, the rhythmical rowing of the boat in Polynesian culture: the blowing of the conch shell. Even the stylised wave at the Aussie Foot ball expresses that basic tribal need for connection and those things that cement people together with a common interest… who wins the footy?!!

Although the humble recorder is an elemental wind instrument it does not detract from the traditions and history that it comes with and it does not mean that it deserves to be maligned in our school system. The recorder deserves to be taught well and teachers need to always strive for its credibility in the music classroom.

Please let me know if you would like further information or would like to leave a comment below.

best wishes,