39th Year:
31st March to 7th April 2004

A Review of the Northern Recorder Course 2004

In the middle of 'gloomy' January I received the finalised arrangements for the 39th Northern Recorder Course.  My spirits were instantly lifted, as I browsed the music list and timetable.  There was certainly a wide ranging choice, something for everyone.  Having digested some of the possible options, I then searched through my collection of music for those pieces on the music list.  Some further pieces also on the list were leant to me by a very kind friend.  I was all set for my first visit to Chester.  Arriving at the campus I easily found the relevant building for course registration.  From this moment on I found everyone very friendly and helpful.  One of the other course members who had been to Chester for 'many years' showed me the route to the accommodation.

My week in the Chester 'recorder bubble' had begun.  The first session of each day started at 9.30 am and the last finished around 9.00 pm. This sounds like a long tiring day, but there was so much going on that the time just disappeared.  The timetable was packed with classes I wanted to attend.  Some because it was my first opportunity to sample them, others because I wanted to learn more about a particular aspect of recorder playing.  People came from as far away as Tasmania to attend this course.  It is up to the individual course members to decide which sessions they would like to attend.  There is no requirement to make a commitment prior to the commencement of the sessions.  (The only exception to this is the recorder orchestra).  In theory it would be possible to attend all five recorder technique classes if so desired!  The technique classes spanned a whole variety of music, from performing modern contemporary music, to baroque, to exercising facial muscles you didn't know you had playing renaissance reed instruments.

The recorder orchestra led by Colin Martin was for me a  'first'.  At the beginning of the week it was a very steep learning curve but an experience not to be missed.  Throughout the week we worked on four very different pieces.  Rossini's Overture - L'Italiana in Algeri and Second Suite for Military Band by Holst were both arranged by Stan Davis.  Andrew Melville, one of the members of the orchestra, had written a piece called Riffs Lament and Jazz, which worked very well.  The fourth piece was Sinfonietta by Alan Davis.  This was a real challenge for the orchestra, it was as difficult to conduct as it was to play!  At the student concert on the final evening the orchestra performed all four pieces - yes we did manage to get the Alan Davis piece almost together!  Alan actually came to hear this the very first performance of his Sinfonietta, I hope he was not too disappointed with what he heard.    

On the Monday evening we were honoured to hear a recorder recital by Daniel Koschitzki, he was accompanied by pianist Timea Djerdj. Daniel although only 26 years of age has won many music awards including the  Moeck/SRP Solo Recorder Playing

Competition in London in 2001.  He played a variety of pieces by composers such as Poulenc, C P Bach and Bowen.  In the second half there was a piece called 'Broken Vow' written by Lara Fabian and Walter Afanasieff, two fellow musicians also studying in Germany with Daniel and Timea.  The whole performance was 'magical' and left me feeling very privileged to have been there to witness it.  For one piece Daniel even played a plastic sopranino!  This was because he couldn't find the instrument he normally used for that piece.

The following day Daniel tutored two sessions on the course.  It was his suggestion that Colin Hand's 'Fanfare for a Festival' should be performed in the student concert that evening.  This we did accompanied by Daniel himself playing a bass recorder.  He approached the class with great interest and enthusiasm.  He was a really pleasant person as well as a good tutor.  My only complaint was that the sessions were too short!

At the student concert there was a variety of performances.  Andrew Melville put his talent to good use for the 'Nicabocarinas' by writing a piece called 'Rumba'.  When I think of ocarinas in future I shall recall Janice Ormerod playing with her leather gloves on!  This was because the holes on her largest ocarina were so large her fingers could not cover them without the gloves.  Unfortunately the quartet of sopraninos could have done with a bit more practise.  This was in complete contrast to the Renaissance Band tutored by Greg Lewin, who I think deserve the award for the best 'in tune' chord of the concert.

Each afternoon the college chapel was made available for use by recorder and voice multi-choir led by Ann Lyall.  The selection of music was marvellous and a pleasure to play.  The acoustics were wonderful especially when one choir went up the narrow staircase to the gallery.  This physical separation of the two choirs really enhanced the music.

The after dinner session was taken by a different course tutor each evening.  This gave everyone the chance to participate in some ensemble playing.  Each of the tutors specialised in a particular period of music.  This was generally evident in their choice of music for these sessions and meant a good variety.  It was nice to see the other tutors and course organisers participating in these sessions too, although how some of them managed it with all the other constraints on their time I shall never know.

The organisation and attention to detail of the whole course was second to none.  All the tutors were fantastic and I learnt so much from them.  They had all done a great deal of preparation and selected a diversity of music.  Every session I attended was most enjoyable.  Justine Spence and all those involved in the running of such a successful course did a fabulous job.  There must have been a huge amount of 'behind the scenes' preparation to ensure the smooth running of the course.  The music selected by the tutors for the various sessions was set out in the shop for you to browse before making a purchase.  Ruth Burbidge had also brought along a huge amount of other recorder music to purchase.  It was a great opportunity to be able to look through so much music, even if it did damage the bank balance!

Perhaps at this point I may be permitted to say a personal thanks to Justine, tutors and all others for accommodating my need for wheelchair access to the sessions.  When I asked for a helping hand with opening a door, transporting of large instruments, or a change of session venue, everyone was only to willing to assist.  My description of it being a week inside a 'recorder bubble' I think is very apt because everyone involved was so passionate about recorders and also willing to share knowledge.  It was my intention to take an afternoon off during the week to visit the beautiful historic town of Chester.  Because there was so much going on during the week, I only got into the town after the course had finished before embarking on my journey home!  I am now very much looking forward to the 40th Northern Recorder Course in Chester 2005.  Meanwhile I hope to put into practice all that I learnt at this year's course.

Jan Epps  

Plymouth