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Topic Summary
Posted by: AmateurPlayer Posted on: Apr 5th, 2003, 9:17pm
Today in the Workshop, we heard some thoughts about Large Groups of Recorders.  The way I understand it, in the minds of many, the fun of playing the recorder is in small ensembles--that getting together in large numbers is for the efficiency of learning something, or affording a guest leader.  Those lessons are then used in their natural home, a small group.
Other people enjoy the large-group experience for itself, since there are bigger sounds and more orchestral arrangements can be used.  This is common in England, and is becoming more popular in the USA.  It had been pointed out to Mr. Gruskin that this is one difference in recorder playing between the two countries.
I can see both points of view.  What do others think?
Posted by: Labattaille Posted on: Apr 6th, 2003, 6:53pm
I personally am glad for the time I get to spend playing in both a small and large ensembles...I really don't have a preference.
 
I really enjoy the intimacy of playing in a quartet, for instance. You have to pay attention to the other parts and the other players much more in order to make the music sound good. (Also, when there's fewer parts--the music tends to be more complex/challenging.)
 
Still, it's great fun to kick back and enjoy playing in a large ensemble. It's more like the typical symphony orchestra experience...you play less often, since there are more parts to divvy out music to.  Grin
 
There. That was my two cents.
Posted by: Hautbois Posted on: Apr 8th, 2003, 4:58pm
I also enjoy both of these forms of playing.  
 
It is a neat experience to play with a large group of instruments.  The (relatively) huge sound that can result can cover up minor mistakes  Roll Eyes and make a great song sound wonderful.
 
However, I must say I prefer small groups, particularly playing one to a part.  There's something I like in getting your own part and learning it well, putting it together with other parts, and listening to how the harmonies and rhythms fit together.  I can't get that in much larger groups.  
 
I think it's important to at least have the opportunity to play in both kinds of groups.  I had never played in a very large recorder group until I went to Whitewater, and it was very fun.
Posted by: berto Posted on: Apr 9th, 2003, 11:05am
In my case, too much playing in large groups encourages mental laziness.
 
When I flub a difficult passage, I sometimes forget the count, lose my place, then drop out. In a large group, it's no big deal: who notices me dropping out? And as for regaining my place, I just listen carefully for someone else playing my part, then jump back in line with them. (But what if they are mistaken? And following their lead, I reinforce their mistake? It has happened!)
 
For one piece recently, our consort split into two competing choirs. As it happened, for my choir (choir 1), I alone was playing the alto part. Accustomed as I am usually to having part-mates, and not yet realizing that I alone was covering the alto part, I reached a point in the piece when, not hearing anyone else playing my part, I figured I must have lost my place yet again. (I hadn't.) So I dropped out.  Embarassed
 
It's beneficial for me to play in a smaller group with one player to a part, as in a quartet. I feel a greater sense of responsibility--there's nobody to back me up--so I pay more attention.
 
Sigh. Mental laziness and lack of focus--that's my biggest problem as a player. For me, recorder orchestras and larger consorts are a mixed blessing.
 
Here's something I've found that helps me train myself to focus: I practice basic exercises keeping time with a metronome and tracking my progress in a small notebook. When I can play an exercise perfectly (or nearly so) at a certain speed for 3-5 times in a row, I take it to the next faster speed. Mistakes recur. After several days or a week, I master the exercise at this faster speed, then bump it up another notch.
 
Yes, my fingers become more nimble, and I burn into my brain the basic intervals (developing what some people refer to as "muscle memory"). But, it seems to me the greatest benefit is practicing the mental focus required to play a passage perfectly at high(er and higher) speed(s). I've noticed that this sharpness of focus extends to my regular consort play.
 
Alas, I haven't been following this exercise regimen lately, and it shows in my play.  Sad
Posted by: MasquedPhoenix1 Posted on: Apr 10th, 2003, 4:00pm
One advantage of getting to play with big groups is that you can play decent arrangements of Classical and Romantic era music.  These were the periods when the recorder kinda dropped off the map so there is almost no music meant specifically for recorders from these periods.  And while recorders will never give you the range of timbres an orchestra can, you can still get a wonderful sense of the music.  I think this is especially important for those who have never had any training on a band or orchestral instrument while they were in school and thus never had a chance to make music in those "traditional" large ensembles.   But some of the old transcriptions of orchestral works that were pared down for recorder quartet fall very much short of giving the players a real sense of the composer's work.  Look at a Romantic orchestral score- there are a heck of a lot of parts!  At least with a large group of players who can cover a 10 or more part arrangement, you can get some idea of what playing these works is like.  
 
But, like Berto says, if you are always playing 4 or 5 part music with a group of 20 players, there is way too much room to hide.  It is good to give newer players a low-pressure environment to hone their ensemble skills and gain confidence by hearing a more advanced player on the same line, but the tendency to get lazy...
 
However much you love large groups, you really need the challenge of playing smaller works one-to-a-part to grow.  We should be glad that we have the chance to do both in Chicago!
 
To me, playing with others is the best part of making music.  Large or small group- I'll be there!
Posted by: berto Posted on: Apr 11th, 2003, 2:36pm
The larger the recorder orchestra, the more players, the more varied the skill levels, and the greater the chance for miscues and mistakes.
 
The larger the recorder orchestra, the more varied the instrument quality, makes, and styles (e.g., Renaissance versus Baroque), and the greater the chance for playing out of tune.
 
Still, is it possible that, because each individual recorder is soft-sounding (relative to instruments in chamber and symphony orchestras) that the mistakes and tonal differences are less noticeable? That "it all comes out in the wash"?
 
That total uniformity of performance and tone (excepting the differences in personal playing styles) might be a bit boring? That, strangely enough, the differences enhance the total musical effect?
 
(And the more the merrier?)
Posted by: MasquedPhoenix1 Posted on: Jul 10th, 2003, 10:47am
And how many different types of violins are in the section of AnyOrchestra, Anytown, U.S.A.?  From community orchestras to the top pros, it'd be rare to find two instruments by the same maker.  And what kinds of strings is everyone using?  A beautiful old 17th century Italian instrument using fine gut-core silver overwound strings will sound a lot different than the 5 year-old instrument by an up-and-coming American maker whose player prefers the clear sound of a synthetic core string wound in aluminum.  And then there're the different types of rosins and weights of bows etc. etc.
 
All of which is meant to illustrate the point that any large ensemble is composed of widely varied people trained by teachers with vastly differing pedagogical ideas who play a stunning array of instruments.  This holds for the orchestral wind players, too- you might see more of the same make of instrument, but the models and mouthpieces will likely be different.  Anywhere you go, you're going to have to learn to blend (both in tone and intonation).  And yes, that is what makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.  In the days when the royals of Europe had their court musicians, you might have seen matched ensembles of instruments, but that is almost unheard of today.  The Canadian brass plays a matched set of horns,  the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet has some matched recorders, but these are few-and-far-between exceptions.  Heck, most of the recorder players I know don't even have a matched quarted amongst their own horns!  And even if your quartet's instruments matched, you'd still have to take into account the varied playing styles of the members.  
 
Blending will always be a challenge.  But as was mentioned above, large groups tend to be more forgiving of necessity.  But the really fine large groups are the ones who work the hardest to produce that magnificent sound where no one instrument stands out from the rest.  Conductors are always admonishing sections to "sound like one player".  Very difficult, but far from an unworthy goal...
 
That's why we all should play in as many different ensembles as we practically can- they all will teach us something different.  Too much to learn, too little time to master it all!  The musician's eternal struggle!


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