Gallery: Recorders come of age

If you thought recorders were only played in schools, think again.

James Marston

If you thought recorders were only played in schools, think again. JAMES MARSTON meets a group of people for whom the woodwind instrument is a lifelong passion.

BE honest, you once played the recorder - everyone did, didn't they?

It was the one instrument everyone remembers having a go at - most probably at primary school.

And it was most probably at primary school that you quickly gave up the recorder and ended your foray into the world of music.

But for some the recorder develops into a passion and life-long interest.

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And at Bentley Village Hall on the third Saturday of every month the Suffolk branch of the Society of Recorder Players (SRP) meet to indulge their hobby.

Moira Usher, 56, of Capel Road, Bentley, wields the conductor's baton.

She said: “The Society of Recorder Players is a national organisation for adult recorder players and I am the conductor of the Suffolk branch.

“Our members turn up just to play the recorder, there are no exams or concerts or competitions and there's no pressure, it's just for fun.”

Moira said the day is split into two with EROS - the Eastern Recorder Orchestra - meeting in the morning and the SRP in the afternoon.

Moira said many players are members of both groups with EROS being aimed at higher standard players - grade six and above.

She added: “Some are very good players so we started EROS about 18 months ago. There are about 14 such orchestras in the UK.”

The Suffolk Branch of the SRP was founded in 1985.

Today the group plays a wide repertoire of music - everything from 16th century recorder music to modern tunes.

Moira said: “It is eclectic mix. The orchestra is working on a number of pieces including Bach's Brandenburg Concerto Number 1, recorder music by a composer called Steve Marshall, Ave Maria from the 1800s and music by the Beatles.”

A notably friendly group, the players are keen to show off their skills and their playing is excellent - far removed from the squeaky high-pitched noise you might expect.

Moira said: “It is very sociable and people get to know other players from all over the UK. There are 50 SRP branches and we have a national festival every year and it's all just for the pleasure of playing so there's no hassle involved.”

For many the recorder is one of the first musical instruments people play.

“People try the recorder at school and they often get taught by people who don't really know how to play the recorder. People get taught to blow, and you don't blow you just breathe.

“The descant which many people start on is high-pitched. People don't think it's a proper instrument but it has a very pure sound and very old. We have music that goes back to the 1400s specifically written for the recorder.

“It is very easy to get notes out of a recorder but very difficult to play it well. It is a skill.”

Aside from the descant there are a number of other recorders - not all high-pitched - ranging from the tiny soprannino to the tall-as-a-man contra bass.






Great Bass

Contra Bass

Moira added: “I love recorder playing and I love conducting so I really enjoy the meetings.”

Are you a fan of the recorder? Do you play? Did you learn at school? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to

Saturday, March 21, 2-5.15pm.

Conductor: Moira Usher.

Dowland - Flow My Tears

Melville - Lachrimae Tango

Stanford - Coelis Ascendit Hodie

Miller arr Davey - Moonlight Serenade

Saturday, April 18, 2-5.15pm

Conductor: Helen Hooker

Helen has kindly consented to be our pastoral visitor this year. She is a professional player and teacher and is chair of the International Recorder Summer School. She runs and teaches on many courses and conducts the Thames Valley Recorder Orchestra. She will bring her own varied selection of music.

Emma Richbell, 38, of Sudbury, plays the contra bass.

She said: “I've been playing since I was a young child at school and in a group in Sudbury. I found out about SRP and thought I would join. I was so impressed by the standard that I kept coming back.

“I really enjoy the sound of the bass recorders and I like the deep sounds they make. It is easy to play but not easy to play well. I like playing a good mix of music and I like Elizabethan music as well as music composed in the last five or so years.”

Jen Larner, 52, of Norton, near Bury St Edmunds, plays the treble recorder.

She said: “I started playing when I was seven. I always liked the recorder. I've never taken any exams and it is not always seen as a serious instrument.

“I started on the descant recorder and I can play all of them, I particularly like treble, tenor and bass. I love the instrument and it makes a lovely sound. Playing in a group is about coming together with like- minded people. It also boosts your confidence as a player.

“The recorder isn't a solo instrument. We play a lot of different music and I like the 16th century recorder music.”

Mo Robinson, 69, of Harlow in Essex, plays the contra bass.

He said: “I retired from my work as a session musician in 1999 and I decided to study an instrument I knew nothing about. I had never played the recorder before so I had a few lessons but I'm mostly self-taught.

“It is something that anyone can have a go at doing and you can have a lot of fun with it. I like anything to do with music as long as it is well played.”

Jessica Cowper, 15, of Barrow, near Bury St Edmunds, plays the great bass.

She said: “I've been playing for six or seven years. I started when I was at school and I really enjoyed it so I had lessons. I started on the descant and then the treble and was handed a great bass when I went to play at the National Youth Recorder Orchestra. I am working towards grade six at the moment. I like the recorders that stand out like the soppranino.

“There is something about the recorder that makes it interesting to play.”

I was seven when I put down my recorder for the last time. Now I suspect it languishes in an attic unused and unloved.

I'd almost totally forgotten the fingering but thought when invited to play alongside some of the best players in the county I better accept the challenge.

You might think it's easy but it's not.

I gave it my best shot and though I have the advantage of reading music and a basic knowledge I couldn't really keep up with When I'm 64 by the Beatles.

Good fun though - even though some of my notes were a little suspect.