What’s a recorder society?

other day,
I glossed over the description of what I was
doing for the Boston Recorder
(BRS) in 2002, so I thought I’d expand on that for this
post. Since it’s been on my mind, I’ll tell you some of what I
was doing that the current organization isn’t.

Note that all of this is from the publicity, and a bit of
hearsay from people who are still going — I haven’t actually been
to a meeting for over a year.

For the 6 years I was involved in putting together the program
and the publicity (2002 through 2007), there were a couple of points I always
had to argue with the rest of the committee:

  1. Describing the classes in terms of the music being played
    rather than the level of players in them.
  2. Having a class open to players of other instruments.

I also made it really easy to volunteer to help out with the
work of the organization, set up a concert series, and published
the names of the board members, both on the web and in the

Class Descriptions

This is the more important of the two points. Here’s a
description from the 2006 brochure, which I compiled:

16th Century Italian Madrigals with
Héloïse Degrugillier (9 meetings)
Play some of the most dramatic music of the
renaissance. This class will explore the
madrigals of Da Rore, Arcadelt, and others.
We will work on ensemble skills, expressive
playing, and fundamental recorder technique.

And here’s the description of the class taught by the same
coach on the current website:

Heloise Degrugillier (group C)
Players should know at least three instruments, play “alto up”, be fluent with cut time and eighth note beats, and be comfortable reading one on a part.

If you wanted to pass tests and validate yourself by moving up
to a more “advanced” group, I can see that you might prefer the
second class, but if you wanted to play music with people who were
excited about it, and you didn’t already know the people involved,
I can’t imagine why you’d even think of going to a class with the
current description.

Now you can make an argument that when I was doing the
brochure, many people were insecure about deciding from the
brochure what class they wanted to take, because I didn’t usually
say anything at all about the level of playing required for the
class. Thus some peole worried
that they wouldn’t be able to do what the class expected. Other
people worried that they’d be stuck in a class with people who
couldn’t play very well.

My contention always was that the coaches should make the
decision about whether the people who wanted to take their class
were capable of playing the music. And since we believed that a
class shouldn’t run unless at least 6 people signed up for it,
anything we said about how advanced everyone in the class was
going to be was usually a lie, because it was rare that there were
really 6 advanced players who wanted to take the same class.

And a further argument in favor of not describing the levels in
the brochure is that people weren’t really deciding what class to
take from the brochure, because the September meeting was always a
“shopping” meeting, where you could meet the coaches and see what
the classes were like. This seems like a better way to decide
than by counting how many instruments the other members of the
class could play.

Other instruments

The main reason I always pushed for a class that allowed other
instruments besides recorders is that I really wanted the BRS to
be an organization that served all the recorder players in the
Boston area. When I joined, there were a couple of advanced
recorder players who were coming and mostly playing Dulcian (an
ancestor of the bassoon), and I benefitted a lot from being able
to play with them.

A secondary reason is that there’s a lot of really good
recorder music that wouldn’t historically have been played in an
all-recorder ensemble, so having viols or dulcians does in fact
make the recorder playing experience better than it would be with
only recorders.

In fact, although the current class descriptions don’t make it
clear who’s invited, the current organization does believe they
should welcome the “right kind” of other instruments. Their
statement says:

No more loud instruments
We are sorry to announce that we will no longer be accepting loud instruments in our ensembles (including serpents, shawms, and krummhorns).

There is apparently somewhere a slightly longer list of
proscribed instruments, but it specifically does not include
cello, which is the other non-recorder instrument which someone’s
actually been bringing. As played at recorder society meetings
I’ve been to, the cello player is at least as loud as the serpent player, and a
less good sightreader of Renaissance rhythms than the krumhorn

So in my opinion, that decision probably has to do with
considerations other than musical ones.

But we already knew that based on the way they describe their classes.

So what is a recorder society?

When I was on the board (including the two years I was the
administrator), I thought
it should be an organization that brought together all the
recorder players in the area of whatever level.

This is why I ran things the way I did.

The current organization has decided that it’s an organization
that lets the established coaches coach the players who want a
once-a-month playing opportunity. Note that this offers nothing
to either the less-experienced professionals or to the advanced
amateurs who want more serious ensemble-playing opportunities, and
it’s unclear how much it does for beginners who need to get their
first ensemble experience.

All the coaches they’ve hired are good musicians and good teachers, and although
you couldn’t tell that from their descriptions, if you sign up for
their classes, you will probably learn something from them.

This Sunday, September 20, is their first meeting of the year, so
if what they’re offering is what you want, you should go.

If you want anything else out of a recorder society, you should
probably look elsewhere. I don’t see any reason why a recorder
player who isn’t interested in the monthly meetings should feel
any desire to join to support their other work, because if there
is any other work, I don’t see it. If you want to do any other
work, I don’t see any suggestion of where you would go to

One thought on “What’s a recorder society?”

  1. Laura –
    Thanks for the compliment! I agree with you on all points. We have recently joined Sheila Beardsley’s group. While it is also organized by skill levels, each month there is a theme that runs through all of the groups. And Sheila was very welcoming to me as a crumhorn player! You might want to provide a link to that group at some point.


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