Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Machines ancient and modern

Today is a day of contrasts, since out front they are milling the street.

This means one massive exciting machine is trundling along eating up the blacktop and shooting it out in a stream of digested material onto the back of a truck

which then drives it who knows where and chucks it somewhere. Now and then a third massive vehicle dodges between them in this narrow roadway outside out house and scoops up what the others have dropped, butterfingers.

All this arouses the little kid in me (and in HP, who was thrilled when I ran out in the middle of cooking, took pix to show him and now share with you, the blogiverse), and even though it smells awful and the racket is like hell returned, it's still kind of fun.

Even though the dentist can't attend HP this week as planned because it's too far to carry his gear from the nearest parking spot he might find, and it's too hard for my art friend to visit and make art with me as hoped, same reason. But this too shall pass.

Then tonight, for the ancient part of the equation, is Princeton Recorder Society's monthly meeting, and I show you pic I took of last month's meeting, with a wonderful conductor, not only a fabulously beautiful woman, very medieval in effect, with red hair, black tunic and tights, boots, but a truly great musician, played Carnegie Hall this year, did a European tour, and in the middle of it all gave birth. And she doesn't even look tired.

The instruments we play, mostly recorders, with a few viols, date back centuries in design, though most of us play very modern Yamaha (not motorbikes, recorders) in very well made plastic, which give true tones, very dependably, wonderful to play. I also have a lovely numbered wood soprano which I treasure, bought from the widower of a player, and I play it to honor her as much as to enjoy it.

I'm including a picture of my own family of instruments, ranging from the smallest one, the sopranino, high up in the bat range (you hear this imitating the flute in the Magic Flute, in that bird song, Papagena, maybe), all the way up to the bass, big enough that it needs that neck strap to hold the weight off the player's hands.

Also in the picture is the silver flute, among her friends (!) and a wooden folk flute from Asia sent by a friend, plus a flat reedy sort of instrument that you buzz with your lips, which I can do for about five seconds before my face sort of vibrates by itself. The wood soprano is being guarded by the bass...

The stand that three of them are on is a handy way of having them at hand to pick up when needed, since in ensembles you routinely switch from instrument to instrument for variety and depending on what the piece needs. And no group appreciates waiting whle a player paws through a bagful of instruments in search of the parts then has to assemble the pieces! all these instruments are in three pieces which you assemble for playing, and it's nice that each has a foot joint that can shift to accommodate your own personal fingers, my little finger being very short I need to shift the joint on all my instruments to fit it.

The viol, which I don't play, though when I see the music with the pencilled markings for bowings, makes me look back nostalgically at violin playing before my body threatened to quit on me if I didn't switch instruments, is an old stringed instrument. You see them in medieval and Renaissance paintings, usually played by angels, and it needs an angel to make them sound really good. They are very temperamental instruments, go out of tune if you look at them wrong, but their devotees don't care, they still love them.

The viol joke is that the Renaissance took three centuries, but it could all have been fitted into one century if they hadn't had to keep stopping to tune the viols...


  1. A recorder concert would be a lovely thing to attend, I think. Sorry to be way over here in Wisconsin, but I will imagine...

    JoyceP from the Cafe

  2. What a delightful post -- love the messy, smelly changes in your street. I have a fondness for big clumsy machines and rough fellows doing their ballet; thank you for your window here!

    Loved, loved the glimpse into your recorder world as well. Beautiful instruments, great teacher encounter; lovely, all of it. Thank you, again!


  3. If you are interested in finding a local recorder society or group or concert, take a look at the American Recorder Society website. There are chapters in Kenosha and Milwaukee, Joyce, not sure how far they are from you.

  4. I did the same when our neighbor's tree (struck by lightening) was being fed to the chipper ... ran out and stood up inside Zachary's tree fort to watch! The noise was deafening, but what an amazing thing it was to see.

    Lovely to see all of your instruments - so many talents bundled in your energetic mind and body!


Thanks so much for commenting. I read all comments with care and much pleasure!