Posted by: groundsforsculpture | April 3, 2010

The Recorder

By Louise Witonsky, docent

Like most people who volunteer and work at Grounds for Sculpture, I am interested in and involved with other art forms besides sculpture. In my case, I have enjoyed playing the recorder for many years. I know that I am not the only docent who plays recorder.  How many more of you play, I would love to find out.

Many people, when they learn that someone plays the recorder will say, “Oh yes, my grandchild plays the recorder in school” thinking that this is mainly a child’s instrument. Well, yes, any age can learn to play the recorder. It is an easy instrument to learn to play and so a person can have fairly quick satisfaction. But, like any instrument, to play it well is another story. Did you know that music conservatories in Europe include the recorder as one of the music disciplines they teach and in the U.S., conservatories like Juilliard are beginning to offer the recorder classes to serious musicians? Many musicians are interested in early music and authentic early music instruments. Early music includes music from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. But it is not only early music that is played on the recorder; today there are composers who write contemporary music for the recorder.

The recorder is part of a family of instruments from the smallest called the garklein, then comes the  sopranino, soprano, alto, bass, great bass- there are up to nine sizes in the recorder family.  Most people play one to four of the recorders in the recorder family. This way people can play not only solo, but in an ensemble. This makes the recorder a social instrument. 

The recorder is a very ancient instrument. Art work and the earliest surviving recorder shows that the recorder was played as early as 1400 AD. It had its heyday in the 16th, 17th and 18th Century and was played by kings and queens as well as the common man. Great composers such as Bach, Telemann and Handel composed music for the recorder. It lost popularity because of the modern flute, but records show that the recorder was brought to the new country when the earliest American settlers came here.  Still the recorder didn’t become popular again until about the 1960s and now more and more people are finding this instrument fun to play.

Most players are part of the American Recorder Society and there are recorder chapters throughout the U.S. Princeton has one such recorder society, the Princeton Recorder Society (PRS) that meets in the Kingston Presbyterian Church the second Tues of the month from September through May. We meet to play the recorder as an orchestra for two hours under the baton of an outstanding guest conductor who brings music for us to play. The chapter is open to anyone who plays the recorder from the beginner to the conservatory trained player. PRS also has a performing group that goes out to the community to play.

For more information, contact me for more information at or google the PRS website. If you have never heard the recorder played, you should come to the Guild for Early Music Festival at Grounds for Sculpture in the fall to hear other early instruments as well as the recorders performed by local people. This festival has been at Grounds For Sculpture for five years.


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