Who will rid me of these infernal recorders?

4th March 2005 at 00:00
As a class music teacher, I think it's about time that we all faced the truth about the recorder. It has been sent by Satan to torment us, and it has to go.

All recorders should be consigned to the next available bonfire; although, as the instrument of the Devil, I shouldn't think it would burn, just carry on playing a slightly out of tune top B as the flames lick impotently around it.

At the school where I currently teach (probably not for much longer, after this), children start playing the recorder in Year 2. Each week, I take two half-hour classes. Thanks to a Faustian pact signed in blood, I am able to survive and retain my sanity, though I do find my face has swivelled by the end of the class.

The children clearly enjoy the lessons. I can tell they do because I met one of their mothers in the supermarket. Looking pale and drawn, she asked whether there was any way of stopping her son blowing, in her ear, the three notes he had learned, prefacing each one with the triumphant remark:

"I'm making a beautiful taa noise, Mummy." (Starting each note with a "T" sound gives it clarity and definition.) OK, so the recorder can be used to teach the rudiments of musical notation.

But why bother? Learning to read music is easier than reading words, thanks to its near universal interpretation and lack of national idiosyncrasies, and can be taught by anyone with a reasonable singing voice, pitch pipes and a pen and paper. The recorder may actually be a stumbling block to musical understanding, since what are so laughingly referred to as its notes bear no relation to anything in the normal sound range, except, perhaps, the denouement of a gory movie.

The recorder never has been, nor ever will be, our national instrument, except one of torture. Once we realise this, the quality of life for everyone involved in the teaching or parenting of primary age children will be significantly improved.

Don't get me wrong. As long as I have to teach the recorder, I'll do it.

Occasionally, I feel a sense of triumph when, after a particularly shrill 20 minutes, everyone has cleared the building and the windows have shattered, but I can almost distinguish, in the musical rubble, a sound that might, one day, just grow up to be a G.

However, while everybody else may feel that reading, writing, arithmetic and recorder are the four points of the educational compass, there are many other ways of helping children to get their musical bearings. We need to think, if not outside the box, at least inside a very well sound-proofed one. We should look closely at the other instruments that might provide a more tuneful introduction to what, for many of our children, is their first experience of music-making. For heaven's sake, let's try to ensure that it's not their last.

Charlotte Kemp is a part-time music teacher. She writes under a pseudonym

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