Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra Newsletter



It is with a great deal of pleasure to welcome members (old and new) to the 2004 - 2005 of music making with the MPRO and I am looking forward to seeing you all.

Our Music Director, Fred Palmer, has chosen a selection of music that is both beautiful and challenging; our rehearsals of this music shall result in a MPRO concert on December 4, 2004.

Our Workshops Committee Chairman, George Greenwood with the members of that committee, have completed plans for Workshop on October 23, 2004. The Title of the Workshop is "Reading Between the Notes" and will be directed by Tom Bickley.

More information is forthcoming regarding the events noted and other activities of MPRO.

Tony Jackson, President

Plastic Anyone?
by Frederic Palmer

Up to the middle of the 17th century, most recorders were made in sets of various sizes. Since tuning joints did not come into common use until the second half of that century, this was the only way to insure that a consort of recorders would play in tune, and this way still remains the best. Superior intonation is not the only advantage to using a matched set of recorders; there is also a better balance and blend than with a recorder consort made up of disparate instruments. The Dutch recorder orchestra, Blokfluitensemble Praetorius, owns two sets of custom-built recorders with multiple instruments of each size. The baroque set was made by the factory of Hans Coolsma and the renaissance set by Moeck. Both sets are specially tuned to the specifications of the orchestra’s director, Norbert Kunst. Members of the Blokfluitensemble Praetorius use these instruments for rehearsals and concerts, not their own. But how feasible is it for other recorder orchestras to own a matched set of instruments? It is actually quite easy and inexpensive: use the top-line Yamaha plastic recorders. Each size of these Yamaha recorders is identical; you can’t tell them apart. And because the same manufacturer produces them, the five sizes available (sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor and bass) are virtually a matched set. Since plastic recorders still elicit feelings of resistance if not outright prejudice among many players, I would like to examine four issues players commonly have with plastic recorders and comment on each. Hopefully, some typical misconceptions can be dispelled.

Issue number one: “Plastic recorders do not play as well as those made of wood.”

Comment: The soprano and alto wood grain plastic recorders produced by Yamaha are outstanding instruments that have been design with as much skill and care as the highest priced custom-made wooden recorders. All of the notes speak clearly and with relative ease, the registers are remarkably even and in the hands of a skilled performer these plastic instruments can handle the most demanding technical challenges. Unlike wooden instruments, these plastic recorders are not subject to cracking and, more important, cannot deteriorate over a period of time.

Issue number two: “Plastic recorders do not sound as good as wooden recorders.”

Comment: That depends on what you mean by “good.” Plastic recorders do sound different from wooden recorders. But, historically, wood was not the only material used to make recorders. During the 17th and 18th centuries ivory was also used, and good plastic recorders can sound very much like ivory recorders. So, think of plastic as being the modern, politically correct version of ivory.

Issue number three: “I just bought a terribly expensive, custom-made recorder. Why should I use a plastic instrument when I play in a recorder orchestra?”

Comment: You may find that your custom-made instrument does not fit in all that well, both in terms of tone quality and intonation, when played with top-line plastics. I have used a strobe tuner to compare the tuning of a custom made alto recorder selling over $1000.00 with that of a Yamaha wood grain plastic selling for around $30.00. The Yamaha was better in tune.

Issue number four: Plastic recorders tend to clog more than wooden recorders.”

Comment: True, but that’s more of a problem if you use a plastic recorder as a solo instrument. In a recorder orchestra situation it’s much less of an issue, since there are usually ample opportunities to discreetly clear a clogged plastic instrument. Or you can simply buy two plastic instruments of the same size. When one clogs you use the other one.

MPRO has purchased a set of top-line Yamaha plastic recorders which members of the orchestra can try out at rehearsals or borrow for a period of time. So, when should you consider using on of these plastic instruments? Here are some common situations:

1. You cannot play in tune with the orchestra and/or your section.
2. There are notes on the instrument you are using which are weak, stuffy or do not speak.
3. You are unhappy with the way the instrument you are playing feels or sounds.
4. You are using an instrument, wood or plastic, that is over twenty-five years old.
5. You want to practice or learn an instrument, which you don’t own, for example the bass recorder.

If you still have reservations about using a plastic instrument, you might want to consider the following: When I played a duet with a member of the orchestra at an MPRO concert, I did not use my terribly expensive soprano recorder custom-made by Hans Coolsma in Holland. We both used Yamaha wood grain plastic recorders. When four accomplished recorder players from the Sacramento area decided to form a quartet, they opted for plastic instruments. They named the quartet, “Plastique.”


Dear members of the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra,

Welcome to MPRO's forty-second season of fine music making. Here are some of the highlights for 2004-2005: The holiday concert, scheduled for Saturday, December 4, will include a six-part intrada by Melchior Frank, a sarabande by Handel, an arrangement for recorders of the klezmer melody, Meine Yiddishe Meidele, as well as a triple-choir Hodie ­featuring recorders, krummhorns and voices by the early 17th-century Polish composer, Andrzej Hakenberger. There will also be encore performances of the Mozart Minuet K. 361 and O infame deloyaulté from the Wolfenbüttel Chansonnier. Appearing with the orchestra for the holiday concert will be the Praetorius Singers, directed by Doris Williams. The spring concert will feature a 15th-century song by Hugo de Lantins, an anonymous passamezzo and saltarello from a collection of 16th-century dances published by Pierre Phalese and Chant de Noël by the 19th-century Russian composer, Anatoli Liadov.

I am pleased to announce that on Saturday, October 23, Tom Bickley will be presenting a workshop for MPRO entitled, "Reading Between the Notes." Tom Bickley has been well known on the East Coast for many years as a teacher, director and performer of both early and contemporary music for the recorder and has recently moved to the Bay Area. This will be a marvelous opportunity to work with a director who is nationally recognized as an expert in the entire range of recorder literature and to explore a topic designed to help all those interested in improving their performing skills and deriving greater enjoyment from their playing. Please see the workshop flier and Tom Bickley's article which appear in this issue of Upbeat, save October 23 on your calendar and register early.

Listed below is the music for the first four meetings of the orchestra. Music can be purchased at these meetings. Those returning from last season can use their parts to the Mozart Minuet and O infame deloyaulté. Please note that contrabass recorders will be needed at all four meetings, great bass recorders on September 1, September 15 and October 6, bass viola da gamba on September 1 and September 29 and krummhorns on September 15 and October 6.

September 1 MPRO Rehearsal
Frank: Intrada I
O infame deloyaulté
Secunda: Meine Yiddishe Meidel
September 15 MPRO Rehearsal
Mozart: Minuet
Handel: Sarabande
Hakenberger: Hodie
September 29 MPRO Rehearsal
Handel: Sarabande
Frank: Intrada I
Liadov: Chant de Noël
Secunda: Meine Yiddishe Meidel
October 6 MPRO Rehearsal
Handel: Sarabande
Mozart: Minuet
O infame deloyaulté
Hakenberger: Hodie

I look forward to working with you again in September and encourage you to let any of your friends who play early instruments know about the orchestra's varied activities this season and invite them to attend our upcoming meetings, workshops and concerts.

Fred Palmer

By Tom Bickley

"Reading between the notes" is my term for a set of basic skills that can be used to analyze any kind of music. These skills are derived from music theory and will strengthen any performer's interpretive technique as well as enable the performer to listen to all music with greater pleasure. I think there can be real enjoyment in discerning the formal structure a piece and noticing what pitches serve as anchors for the work, how the different parts relate to each other as well as how the piece fits into the style or styles of its time and place.

Using these basic skills is a way of turning a printed score into living music. To illustrate how I begin with this approach, consider the solo piece, De Lof-Zangh Marie, from Jacob van Eyck's 1647 collection, Der Fluyten Lust-hof. This piece consists of a theme and two variations. Notice that the theme begins and ends on the same d (the home pitch of the piece). The range is an octave, from a to a'. For the purpose of our survey, I suggest considering the half steps as pulling toward their nearest neighbor. That guides us in hearing the b-flat as pointing toward the a and the c-sharp as pointing toward d. We now recognize the scale or mode of the piece as d e f g a with b-flat emphasizing the importance of the pitch a, and c-sharp shining a sonic spotlight on the home pitch d. Once we have identified the pitches of the theme, we know that those are the pitches that are likely to be emphasized throughout the piece. Other notes in the variations serve a subsidiary role.

Next, we search for the phrase structure of the theme, and we begin by determining how many phrases there are. If there are an even number, we look for a significant division at the halfway point. Do the two halves divide symmetrically? For further clues I recommend counting the lengths of phrases (both total duration and number of notes). Breath or phrase marks should be placed at these division points and the piece then played to test the preceding analysis. If necessary, these markings should be adjusted so that the theme makes aural, intellectual and emotional sense.

Analysis of the pitch and phrase structure will be greatly strengthened by an awareness of the style of the piece. I suggest considering style very broadly so that it includes the time period, geographic origin and cultural function (dance, ceremony, song, etc.) of the music. Often the composer's name and the title give helpful clues. More information in readable form is available in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music and in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Most important of all is for the performer to listen to as much music as possible, both live and recorded. As we read between the notes we will create greater satisfaction not only for ourselves, but also for our fellow musicians and all who listen to us when we perform.

On Saturday, October 23, Tom Bickley will present a workshop in San Mateo on how performers can acquire the basic skills he calls "reading between the notes." Tom Bickley studied recorder with Scott Reiss, composition and listening with Pauline Oliveros, and musicology with Ruth Steiner. He teaches privately and for the SFEMS Recorder Week and the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training. He has served as composer in residence at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, holds degrees in music, liturgy and information science, directs the Cornelius Cardew Choir and is active in the duos Gusty Winds May Exist and Three Trapped Tigers. For further information about this workshop please phone Mary Carrigan at 415-664-9050.

You are invited to be our guest at the next meeting of the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra
Bring your instruments and a music stand or just come and listen.

The Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra 2004-2005 season rehearsals begin on Wednesday, September 1 from 8:00 to 10:00 P.M. at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, Room 050; 480 East Meadow Dr., Palo Alto. The orchestra is open without audition to recorder, early wind or early string players who are able to read and play the music provided at meetings.

2004-2005 meetings will be held on the following dates:

Sept. 1, 15, 29;Oct. 6, 20;Nov. 3, 17;Dec. 2;
Jan. 5, 26;Feb. 2, 16;Mar. 2, 9, 23;Apr. 6, 20;
May 4, 18;June 1.

Concerts on Dec. 4, 2004 and June, 2005.

For further information please contact: Frederic Palmer, Music Director (650) 591-3648 or Tony Jackson, President (510) 845-8229 or visit our web site at www.sfems.org/mpro.
MPRO is an affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society.


A reminder that your dues for the 2003-2004 season is due: $80.00 for Participating Member, $20.00 for Associate Member. Make your check to MPRO and give to Chris at the September 15 meeting, or mail to Christopher Flake (see printed newsletter for address).

Please enclose an updated application form with your payment. (See previous page.) If the info hasn't changed from last year, just write your name. Be sure Chris has your latest e-mail address. Please do fill in any consort requests and your preferred instrument choices.

Chris Flake