You mentioned your early interest in brass instruments and coming to the recorder later on. What brought about your interest in the recorder?
Actually I played the recorder long before I was ever aware of brass. I spent part of my childhood in London's outer suburbia where I was introduced to the recorder in primary school. That might have been the end of my musical development I suppose, but fortunately we had as a neighbour a wonderful musician, a percussionist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who took me under his wing and taught me the basics of music using the recorder and various pots and pans. From that time on the recorder has been my constant companion and a source of endless delight and fascination to me. Who can explain such a consuming passion?
Have you received any formal musical training involving the recorder?
Apart from my childhood efforts I am entirely self-taught on the recorder. When I was 12, my family moved to Australia where we lived in a coal-mining town in country New South Wales. Cultural opportunities were rather limited there and I soon became a juvenile delinquent. One Saturday morning I passed the local brass band in their funny old uniforms with their braid decoration and peaked hats, honking away on a street corner. I must have seen and heard them many times before, but this occasion was something of an epiphany for me: I was saved from a life of crime (and grime)! Instead I took up the trombone which I played with the town band and latter with another in Sydney. In time I won an Exhibition to study trombone at the NSW Conservatorium of Music, performing in the student orchestra and various ad hoc ensembles, attending theory classes in harmony, history, composition – all the usual things. Not wishing to pursue an orchestral career, I put the trombone aside when I entered University to study science. I have only taken it up again in the last few years now my children are learning cornet and trombone.
On completion of my University studies in botany and genetics I embarked on a career as a plant taxonomist which I have pursued ever since. But I soon felt the need for some outlet for my musical interests. It occurred to me that I had tooted away at the recorder almost every day of my life. I did this without much thought or direction, simply as a way of relaxing, of getting back into contact with myself after a stressful day, a form of meditation or ritual. I still do it. Over the years I had evolved a reasonably fluent technique all my own and, through working for the Sydney office of Boosey & Hawkes during vacations, had discovered something of the instrument's repertoire. Now I pursued things in earnest, reading everything I could find on the recorder, its history and technique, as well as on performance practice. I listened to all the recordings I could lay my hands on; and I practiced like mad. Somehow I found my way to the Sydney Society of Recorder Players, which at that time was quite moribund. I resolved to do something about it, got myself elected as Musical Director and, though I was only one step ahead of the crowd, led them some way out of the doldrums. They continue to flourish to this day.
At that time, David Munrow loomed large on the musical horizon and naturally I longed to emulate him. As fortune would have it, I was invited to join a local baroque group that comprised a string quartet, harpsichord, oboe and recorder. The Sunningdale Baroque Ensemble performed regularly in a rather grand private residence in Sydney's millionaires territory. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to play my way through endless solo and trio sonatas, and other ensemble works before a sympathetic audience. As an adjunct to baroquery, the SBE maintained a substantial collection of reproduction renaissance wind instruments (including recorders), which I commandeered and used as the basis for a small ensemble of my own. This allowed me to explore the earlier repertoire. In time I formed a small chamber ensemble, Ayres Baroque, and played my way through the concerto repertoire with the St Phillip's Chamber Orchestra. At this time I started teaching recorder privately to a few students.
Perth in Australia is, as you note, the most isolated city in the world. What opportunities does this provide for playing the recorder?
In a sense, recorder players are always isolated no matter where they might find themselves. The opportunities for playing the recorder in Perth are for the most part those one creates oneself, much like elsewhere. When I first came to Perth in the mid-1970s I found immediate acceptance by the University of Western Australia's Department of Music who gave me open access to their teaching and rehearsal rooms, performance venues, library, instrument collection and other facilities. In return, I gave the occasional lecture on historical performance practice and taught a few of their students and others at the Conservatorium of Music who had a developing interest in the recorder and early music. Some of these students formed the basis for the Hesperian Ensemble which, under my direction, performed a wide range of music from medieval to modern on recorders and other early instruments. Its success was astonishing and we attracted excellent audiences, especially for medieval and renaissance offerings.
To provide a milieu in which amateur playing could flourish I joined forces with a community music organisation in order to establish the Nedlands Recorder Orchestra, which proved very popular especially when it combined forces with the Fremantle Mandolin Orchestra. In time the baton passed to one of my students, Robyn Mellor. Eventually, the groundswell of interest in the recorder in Perth was sufficient for the formation of an independent Recorder Guild of Western Australia which has since transmogrified into the Recorder and Early Music Society of Western Australia. The latter functions as such societies do everywhere, meeting monthly to play en masse and in smaller groups, mounting workshops, some residential. The latter attract players from throughout this very large state.
I must admit to not having much to do with the amateur scene these days. In between the demands of my scientific work and those of a young family, my musical activities are confined to teaching a small number of advanced students, performing professionally as opportunity allows, and maintaining the Recorder Home Page. A highlight in recent years was playing for the premiere of Let's Begin Again, a new work by John Tavener jointly commissioned for the Perth International Festival. It includes a quartet of recorders as well as orchestral instruments, a choir and soloist to accompany a tableau that takes some 90 minutes to perform. It is a dramatic and deeply moving work.
Was it an interest in computing and communication that led you to set up the Recorder home page, or was its inception more as a result of your particular interest in the recorder and seeing a need for such a resource?
It was all of those things. I have long been an inveterate collector of information of all kinds relating to musical instruments in general and to the recorder in particular. I guess it's the taxonomist in me. I have a good library of books, journals and scores, and filing cabinets full of references, quotations, pictures, talks I've given, reviews, correspondence, and so on. And I'm blessed with a very retentive memory. Some years ago the focus of my work changed somewhat from research to the management of science. I completed a degree in management part-time and found myself in charge of information systems research and development across the Science Division of the very large department for which I work. In order to communicate the results of our work to the public at large it was inevitable that we should make use of the emerging Internet technology. As I explored the Web imagine my surprise to find absolutely nothing whatsoever about the recorder.
Partly to ensure that something about the recorder was available on the Internet and partly as an exercise by which I could learn the basics of HTML (the hypertext markup language behind web pages) I put up an extended version of an article on the recorder which I'd had published some years in the Australian Journal of Musical Education. It still forms the centrepiece of my site, namely The Recorder: Instrument of Torture or Instrument of Music? This almost immediately attracted the attention of a number of other enthusiasts who bombarded me with questions: where to buy instruments, music, and recordings; how to finger this note and that; where to find a particular reference, and so on. The site grew as I responded to these needs. Amongst my earliest correspondents and to this day a most a most genial and helpful critic was the Italian recorder virtuoso David Bellugi. Similarly constructive have been my interactions with the American scholar/librarian David Lasocki and, of course, Anthony Rowland-Jones.
No other musical instrument has anything quite like the Recorder Home Page and the figures you quoted to me regarding its use are astonishing. Could you remind me of some of the statistics relating to numbers of "hits" and their frequency?
Visitor statistics vary widely. The RHP site receives up to 300,000 hits monthly from ca 18,000 visitors. This equates to some 216,000 visitors annually, each accessing a total of 168 pages. On the Web a 'page' can comprise text, image, sound or video files, or some combination of any of these elements. But, however you look at it, there is a lot more interest in the recorder out there than I ever would have thought.
I note that there are in fact a number of Web sites devoted to the recorder in France, Holland, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Singapore and elsewhere. By and large, these various sites compliment each other well, each providing local content as well as unique items and a point of view of their own. All these (and others) can be accessed via the Recorder Home Page under Links.
There are also excellent web sites devoted to many other instruments, even the crumhorn! Some of my favourites are devoted to the flute, ocarina, shakuhachi, tin whistle, txistu (Basque three-holed pipe) and of course the trombone. What marks the Recorder Home Page apart is its scope, currency and focus. From the outset I have tried to ensure that it is a destination rather than just a collection of signposts on the way to somewhere else. The focus of the site is fairly and squarely on the recorder itself, and the emphasis throughout is on content and efficient information delivery.
Among the contents of the home page you mentioned the unique collection of recorder iconography. Has its inclusion helped to stimulate a growing interest in this field?
I believe it has, though it is early days yet. In some circles, placing in the public domain an extensive and well-organised catalogue of my own records of depictions of the recorder in artworks might be considered a highly provocative act! But it certainly has encouraged others to make their observations more widely known. The size of this on-line catalogue has grown exponentially and I've lost count of the number of contributors to it. It shows signs of levelling out now, though it currently holds over
2,000 entries. My chief collaborator and the real genius behind Recorder Iconography is Anthony Rowland-Jones who regularly trawls the galleries, image collections and libraries of Europe for signs of recorders and spoon-feeds me with his notes, photocopies and slides. Through Anthony's efforts we have made fruitful contact with researchers, curators, and enthusiasts like ourselves who have all been most generous in providing data and images from their own collections. Amongst them are Armin Brinzing (Munich), Herman Moeck (Celle), Florence Gertreu (Paris), Angelo Zaniol (Venice).
The only other such on-line catalogues devoted to particular instruments of which I am aware are the preliminary lists provided by Mary Rasmussen for the horn, lute and tambourine. I came across these just recently and they have provided many novel entries for Recorder Iconography. There is a superb general site devoted to the depiction of music in artworks held in French collections, namely the Joconde database maintained in Paris.
Another section contains a catalogue of original instruments. Are there any other sections that you consider are of special benefit and importance, or which cannot be accessed elsewhere?
Now you've embarrassed me! The catalogue of original instruments is
as yet only partially now largely complete. I have most of the data to hand, and I have designed a relational database to hold it. However, it will be some time before I can enter the details. Basically it will enables the user to locate instruments by a particular maker and some of their basic details such as location, size, pitch, materials, maker's mark, keywork, references to relevant articles, available drawings, and images. Much of this information is drawn from the literature, but there are many original observations by myself and (more importantly) from some of the makers, including Adrian Brown and Jean-François Beaudin.
I would like to think that my own somewhat unconventional accounts of the history of the instrument both ancient and modern provide a useful gloss on other accounts. I was delighted last year to be amongst those asked by David Lasocki for comment and input on the entry for recorder he has written for the forthcoming second edition of The New Grove. I was able to alert him to a number of matters I consider important; and, of course, he was able to put me right on quite a few points too! I enjoy an almost daily correspondence with Anthony Rowland-Jones whose ongoing research into musical iconography and the early history of the recorder might, in some small measure, be informed by own knowledge and insights.
Amongst the many other offerings to be found on the Recorder Home Page there are indexes of composers, makers and retailers, music publishers, players, recordings, societies, software, teaching institutions; catalogues of repertoire from various countries, and quotations from literature, theatre and film involving the recorder. There are sound files to listen to and for self-accompaniment. There is a selective bibliography and articles by a number of contributors on the history of the recorder, care and feeding, symbolic associations, physics, technique, construction, and many other topics. There is a special resource page for makers. As a courtesy, the Recorder Home Page hosts pages for boutique makers and for publishers of recorder music. Of course all of this more or less basic information can be accessed via traditional information sources. But these are widely scattered and difficult of access unless one has the time and opportunity to consult a large academic library! There is an obvious need to draw it all together.
Are there any areas in particular where you feel the input of information would improve the resource or which have yet to be covered at all?
Absolutely. To date what has been written about the history of the recorder has been largely Euro-centric. We need to know much more about its history in other countries such as those of Scandinavia and Russia. I have supplied some information about its use in Japan from the 16th century and in the USA from the 17th century, and there has been an account of its 16th-century introduction into Bolivia. But it must have figured in the musical life of other European colonies, including those of South Africa, India, and the many countries of Central and South America. For information about this and the recorder's recent history we need input from residents of those countries with access to local knowledge and resources.
Walter van Hauwe and Paul Leenhouts maintain an extensive on-line database of contemporary music for recorder from 1900 onwards, which now lists details of some 3,000 items and is growing daily. Clearly they are making excellent progress, but the field they have to survey is vast and they need all the help they can get. To date I have been successful in eliciting preliminary repertoire lists from collaborators in Japan, Argentina, Spain, and Japan. I have myself compiled comprehensive catalogues for New Zealand and Australia. And I have been promised lists for Brazil and South Africa. For other countries, partial lists have been extracted from the catalogues of the various National Music Centres where these are available on-line or extracted by trawling library catalogues accessible via the Internet. Again, those with local knowledge and direct access to their National Music Centres and major libraries will be able to contribute greatly to the Hauwe/Leenhouts database.
The historic repertoire remains largely undatabased. Laurence Poitier's comprehensive listing of the French baroque repertoire, with references to modern editions, is available on the recorder site maintained by Jean-Luc Manguin. As far as I am aware, it remains an isolated example, though I understand that both Walter van Hauwe and the American scholar/librarian David Lasocki both have plans for a comprehensive databased bibliography of the entire pre-twentieth-century repertoire!
I have provided an extensive collection of literary quotations that mention the recorder or related instruments, though I'd be interested to learn of additional sightings, especially from contemporary sources. It would be wonderful if this compendium could be extended to the literature of other languages. Again, this will require input from native speakers who can survey the field and perform the necessary indexing.
A dream of mine is to encourage the various journals devoted to the recorder to make the many articles from past issues available on-line. With modern scanning technology this would be quite straightforward. Recorder Magazine would be an obvious target for such an exercise, as would American Recorder, Tibia, Revista de Flauta de Pico, WindKanal, and Australia's Journal of Recorder and Early Music. To this corpus could added relevant articles from Woodwind Quarterly, FoMHRI Quarterly, Early Music, and the Galpin Society Journal, and suchlike. A team of enthusiasts armed with flatbed scanners and suitable Optical Character Recognition software could accomplish most of what is required very quickly indeed.
I've probably said enough to convince you that although much has been accomplished much remains to be done. It seems appropriate here to make the point that I positively welcome collaboration and contributions to the Recorder Home Page from anyone who cares to offer them. I further note that I have assisted a number of players composers, publishers, makers and retailers in many countries establish their own Web pages, often hosting them for a while on my own site before their authors are ready to fly solo.
What developments do you foresee for the recorder home page? In particular I am thinking of new possibilities involving the media and the Internet and the availability of sound recordings or printed music. Do such possibilities present their own problems?
Much of what you might envisage is already there, at least in embryo. There are Finale, PostScript and Sibelius scores to view on-screen, print or try before you buy. There are sound clips from CDs and MIDI files to listen to and MIDI files to use as "music minus one" accompaniments for practice purposes. Image files abound and can simply be enjoyed or cut and pasted into documents of your own. There is at least one CAD drawing of an original 18th-century recorder prepared by a leading maker. Sadly, there are no video clips of players or teachers as yet, though this would be perfectly possible to arrange. However, the introduction of multi-media elements does introduce some special problems. Amongst these are the obvious issues of quality, bandwidth, storage space (multi-media files tend to be large) and, last but not least, copyright. The last is a bit of a minefield, I'm afraid.
Are there benefits brought about by the establishment of the home page that you consider have been of particular significance for recorder research or communication between recorder enthusiasts?
Recorder Iconography is an obvious example of what can be achieved collaboratively by a small number of people working together on the Internet. It is a unique resource giving details of some
2,000 art works that include the recorder. To my knowledge, there is simply nothing of this scope and quality available for any other instrument in any other medium. I feel sure it will stimulate much thought which, in time, will manifest itself in the scholarly literature. I am confident that the free availability of such things as authoritative information on instrument care, articles on various aspects of technique, indexes of extant makers, music publishers and retailers, a database of some 800 CDs featuring the recorder, and so on in a convenient and easily navigated environment are invaluable to enthusiasts and researchers alike and could hardly fail to improve both the level and extent of communication amongst them.
In a way, I'm glad that all those 18,000 monthly visitors to my site don't send me email messages! That would be too much communication by far! There are, of course, a number of on-line discussion groups devoted to the recorder where topics range very widely indeed. And I can assure you that a very lively correspondence between a number of professional players, scholars and researchers takes place via the Internet, albeit less publicly. I myself have forged some immensely rewarding friendships by virtue of the existence of the Recorder Home Page.
My questions have naturally concentrated on the recorder in cyberspace, but what areas of the recorder and its music specially interest you personally?
It would be much easier for me to note what areas of the recorder and its music don't interest me! Suffice it to say that by far the most special thing to me about the recorder is the challenge of actually playing it. I never cease to be astonished at how much is possible on this deceptively simple wooden tube with a few holes bored in it. At its best, recorder playing represents an intricate synthesis of the skills of scholar, maker, composer, and performer that I find endlessly fascinating and rewarding.
There's a splendidly happy monochrome portrait of an elderly beggar playing the recorder to the accompaniment of an old crone on hurdy-gurdy by Dutch painter, engraver and poet Adriaen Pieterszoon van de Venne (1598-1662) which can be viewed from my Web site. His enraptured expression captures exactly the satisfaction and contentment I can only hope I communicate whenever I play the recorder. It's not a bad likeness of me, come to think of it. I hasten to add that the old crone driving him on must represent my shadow rather than my wife who is very beautiful and doesn't play the hurdy-gurdy!
© Copyright 2000-2012, N.S. Lander
Webmaster: Nicholas S. Lander