Soprano Recorder

Soprano Recorder

Soprano Recorder range

This is the standard recorder given to countless elementary school children.  It is also my least favorite voice in the family.  Our disdain for the recorder comes from this instrument that is the exact same pitch as the Piccolo Flute.  Who wouldn’t be annoyed by it?  As the top voice in an SATB recorder consort its role is perfect.

One note, in the UK the Soprano is known as the Descant Recorder.

Baroque transcriptions on the Soprano Recorder

Czardas on the Soprano Recorder

Recorders Part 2 – Recorders in the Band

The Recorder in the Band

Here we start getting into uncharted territory.  Off the top of my head, I know of no work in the band literature that calls for recorders.  That doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done though.  A soloist on any member of the family will work fine.  The higher the recorder of course, the more likely it will cut through the band.

Remember, any woodwind player should be able to learn the recorder fairly easily.  Believe it or not, the instrument that has the most in common with the recorder is not the flute, but the bassoon.  The fingerings of the two instruments are very similar (due to the somewhat primitive state of the modern bassoon).  If the band possesses extra flute, clarinet, or saxophone players, why not give them the opportunity to shine as members of a new section?

Trying out a recorder ensemble in a band could lead to marvelous possibilities.  It could give the flute family some company as well.  Why not start out with a standard SATB or AATB quartet, or a SnSATB quintet?  All recorder players should be able to play other members of the family, so doublings are quite common and useful.  Most recorder players will have at their immediate disposal at least a Soprano, Alto, and a Tenor (and Sopranino and Bass won’t be far behind).

An interesting fact is that most professional recorder consorts eschew the upper members of the ensemble.  I have found many recordings where the Tenor or Bass Recorder is the highest voice in the entire ensemble.  The sound of an all low recorder groups is absolutely breathtaking.  Gone is the toyish quality of the Soprano and Sopranino.  Here is a sound that is moving and resonate.

Remember, because recorders cannot do dynamics, do not score around them too heavily.  They will get drowned in a mass of brass.

Scoring possibilities are endless.  Bassoon and Oboe are known mixtures from Baroque literature.  As is trombone and trumpet.  Why not try an anachronistic combination of recorder and saxophone, a mixture of old and new?  Or a call and response between a flute quartet and a recorder quartet?

One thing to remember is that the sound of recorders is right now novel in a band setting.  Use it as such.  The less you use something, the more magical it becomes.  Don’t have your recorders playing all the time.  Chances are, they won’t add anything to the texture in tutti.

To give some examples of the use of the recorder in an ensemble, here are a few examples of concerti that feature the instrument both Baroque and Modern.

For what is possibly the best and most well-known use of the recorder (in this case the Alto) in a large-ish ensemble, I can offer nothing better than Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2.  This video is done with all period instruments pitched at A=415.  Note the valveless trumpet, and how the recorder is able to keep up with and be an equal member of the group of 4 soloists.  I have played this recorder part before, and can attest that it uses the entire range of the instrument and that range is fully expected to be heard distinctly in the ensemble.

Vagn Holmboe’s Concerto for Recorder and Orchestra is an excellent example of how a recorder can work in a modern ensemble.  The recorder here (I think a Sopranino, but I cannot absolutely confirm this) comes across clear and direct above the whole ensemble.  We can also see how the instrument mixes with the “tinkly” percussion.  In the middle of this movement, there is a section where the recorder player uses multiphonics.  This is achieved by playing one note and singing/humming a second.  You can also hear flutter tonguing.

Another modern concerto by Richard Harvey.  The performer alternates between the Soprano and Sopranino Recorders.  Something to note is that none of these concertos use instruments lower than the Alto.  From Tenor on down, the sound is just too soft to be heard over a large ensemble for a prolonged section.

Another movement of the same concerto.  Listen for a wonderful moment between the Sopranino Recorder and the Bass Clarinet.