Many people have mixed feelings about the recorder. It is easy to see why the instrument is taught in schools. From the early 1960s, good plastic recorders became available which made the recorder a comparatively cheap instrument for introducing children to playing music. Recorders are also portable, simple instruments that produce direct melodies.
As Valerie DePriest, retired recorder teacher, told NPR: “It is possible, with good teaching, to get a good sound out of the recorder quite quickly”. There lies the rub: many music teachers aren’t trained on the recorder, and many students lack aptitude. To prove that recorders need not be instruments of torture, take a listen to the video below:
Ralf Bienioschek, the musician responsible for the impressive recorder playing in the video, is well aware of listener antipathy to poorly played, badly taught recorder music. As he puts it in his notes to the video, “Bohemian Rhapsody is probably the best known and most popular song in rock history worldwide. For more than 20 years I have repeatedly thought about adapting this song for recorders and band without making myself or the instrument ridiculous”. Well done Ralf, mission accomplished!
The association of recorders with children battling to squawk out a melody, belies the instruments past. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the recorder was a serious instrument. Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Bach composed recorder pieces and parts. As orchestra’s grew bigger and louder the recorder was replaced by the flute, and fell out of favour to the extent that nowadays it is seen more as a toy more than an instrument. The following video shows how the recorder was used in its heyday, when JS Bach regarded it as a serious instrument:
The following video is an hilarious pastiche of recorder-phobia uploaded to a YouTube channel called “shittyfluted”. The channel specialises in showcasing the recorder in it’s worst light. If nothing else, the shittyfluted assault on Bohemian Rhapsody demonstrates the skill of Ralf Bienioschek’s multitracked arrangement which is comprised of 55 recorder tracks, piano, electric guitar, electric bass and drums. In particular, one appreciates Bienioschek’s dexterity and skill in the more operatic parts of the song, which are slaughtered in the version above.
Bienioschek has set himself a difficult task: “I have set myself the goal of permanently changing the image of the recorder through cool and well-played arrangements and the best sound”. Over a period 14 years, Ralf Bienioschek has worked with artists as diverse as Anastacia, Germaine Jackson and Robbie Williams in the role of musical director and bandleader for more than 150 TV shows in Germany.
We can only wish him well with the daunting task of reforming the contemporary image of the recorder. His 2022 cover of Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly a good step forward, but the number of people who have been scarred by poor teaching of the instrument or by hearing the instrument blown by a tone-deaf child is large. Good luck, Ralf.