Doing my job

Share this:
November 1, 2004 // UPDATED 4:34 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Brian Voerding
Brian Voerding

Mary Halverson Waldo

Recorder instructor,

MacPhail Center for Music

1128 LaSalle Ave.

To most, the thought of recorders brings about memories of a simple white or black plastic stick with holes that could be coaxed into a tinny version of "Hot Cross Buns." Nearly everyone seems to have one somewhere, either in a junk drawer or in a basement box. But nearly no one considers that the recorder -- like a violin, trumpet, guitar -- can be a professional-level instrument.

"The recorder is a commonly misunderstood instrument," said Mary Halverson Waldo, a professional recorder player.

The recorder is a chamber music instrument, one that won't be found in a modern orchestra, Waldo said. Professional recorders are made from wood and cost several hundred dollars. Composers have written pieces for the recorder for centuries and continue to write contemporary works.

When she isn't teaching at MacPhail, she's gigging Downtown and around the Twin Cities; between the two responsibilities, she earns a full-time living.

Why did you begin playing recorder?

I was first drawn to the sound and the uniqueness of the instrument. It's been around for centuries and centuries, but it's also an incredible contemporary instrument. The recorder is simple in one sense because it's easy to make a sound on right away and you don't have to go into contortions like with some wind instruments. But it's also a very complex instrument.

How many students do you teach at MacPhail?

Right now, I have 17 students. It's a typical number. I have a 3-year-old, and lessons are offered even to adults, but mostly I teach younger children and teenagers. There's a group of teenagers right now that have all been with me for years.

Why do students choose the recorder over, say, an electric guitar?

Some students want something different, something that sounds different, something that no one else is playing. And other instruments don't have the same sense of history that a recorder has. Bach, Telemann, Handel and others all composed Baroque music for recorder.

Is recorder performing a growing trend?

It's always been around as an underground instrument, but [it's popularity] comes and goes in waves. It was really popular in the 1960s and '70s as both a folk instrument and part of an Early Music [music composed before the 19th century] revival. It isn't as popular now, but it's still hanging on. Recorder players are a dedicated bunch.