These recorders are a tall order
Finding a house big enough to house a giant recorder was the first order of business for Simon James when he moved to New Zealand.
He and his wife Pat arrived from England in 2012 bringing with them their musical collection, including the rare $8000 maplewood contrabass recorder standing 2 metres tall.
The Renaissance period instrument is one of only four in the country – that Simon knows of.
It’s also among the largest and deepest pitched recorders in the world.
The Auckland resident first started playing the standard recorder when he was 7 years old but soon gave it up to learn the trumpet.
During the 1980s he was working as an engineer in Liverpool when he went along to an open musical event and fell in love with the recorder.
‘‘You don’t need to develop muscle technique and strength in your lips for a clear sound with the recorder whereas an oboe, for example, might take two weeks before you can get a note out of it.
‘‘That’s the reason I got into it and it just took off from there.’’
He’s now an active member of the New Zealand Society of Recorder Players which has more than 150 members.
‘‘I meet with about half a dozen other players and once a fortnight we get together and play.’’
But it’s much misunderstood and is fast losing a popularity battle with ukuleles as the instrument of choice for teaching children, he says.
‘‘The recorder is a very good instrument to learn at school . . . I don’t understand why they’re becoming less popular.
‘‘Maybe people have been put off by primary schoolkids playing en masse with plastic descant recorders which sound dreadful. They probably got a bad reputation because of that.’’
In an effort to restore the instrument’s reputation he and Pat have held classes at a musical appreciation group they run through U3A, the University of the Third Age continuing education gramme for the retired.
‘‘People don’t know much about recorders and they’re inquisitive. If they’re taken seriously they can be a nice instrument to play and listen to,’’ Simon says.
Is it more than just a hobby then?
‘‘I’ve retired, I’m not an engineer any more, so I’ve got to fill my life with some-
pro- thing,’’ Simon says.
Pat says when she met Simon in 1986 it ‘‘really was a case of if you can’t beat him join him’’.
‘‘I couldn’t play music when I met him – he was playing with a group including little old ladies and I thought ‘I can do that too’, so I started playing. ’’
Simon has been learning the contrabass recorder for eight years now. The 2m instrument consists of three parts, including a cap at the top.
‘‘That’s why we had to buy this house. We needed a high ceiling,’’ Pat says.
Go to aucklandcity harbournews. co.nz and click on Latest Edition to see Simon James perform Bach’s
In tune, right: Simon James likes the recorder’s ‘‘clear sound’’ and says it’s a ‘‘pleasant instrument to play’’. Many major composers have written music for the recorder including Bach, Simon’s favourite.
Record heights, above: Simon James owns a large collection of Renaissance and Baroque recorders including the contrabass that stands around two metres tall.