A Portuguese translation/adaption of an earlier version of this article is available here.
Many of us might endorse the sentiment intimated by Stephan Gosson, a Puritan author, that recorder playing is the first step on the road to hell. In Gosson's view this road led "from Pyping to playing, from play to pleasure, from pleasure to slouth, from slouth to sleepe, from sleepe to sinne, from sinne to death, from death to the deuill" Obviously for him the recorder would have symbolised delight in earthly pleasure; for us today its shrieks and groans in the hands of children and enthusiastic amateurs sometimes seem to offer a foretaste of eternal torment.
Few if any other musical instruments are manufactured, sold and played in such vast numbers as the recorder – it has been estimated that some 3.5 million plastic recorders alone are manufactured anually (Loretto 1993). Indeed, its use in educational programmes has become ubiquitous throughout the western world. However, it must be said that music educators, as a consequence of their thoroughly laudable efforts towards the recorder's promulgation, are too often the chief agents of its abuse, albeit unwittingly.
Is the recorder a mere toy, an educational aid, or a simple musical instrument suitable only for amateurs? Or is it a vehicle of serious musical expression worthy of years of dedicated study?
To answer these questions this article takes a brief look at the history of the recorder, at its technique, at its repertoire, at available recording, instruments, opportunities for learning, and societies.
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