Monday, September 20, 2010

Recorder Concerts


#29 in an occasional series of repressed 70's memories that turn out to be true.recorder

Oh do you remember sweet Betsy from Pike?
Who crossed the wide prairie with her lover, Ike?
With 2 yoke of oxen and one spotted hog,
A tall shanghai rooster, and an
Old yellow dog?

There is only reason I know that song, when “Good Foot, Pt 1” was in the Billboard 100 that same year.  I learned “Sweet Betsy from Pike” in recorder class.

Wait – Betsy and Ike were not married?  That is so groovy, man.  right…on.  What the devil is a shanghai rooster?  Don’t ask questions – just finger.

Before we move too far, I want to point out that “Betsy From Pike” goes down the same creepy sad road of all our childhood ditties (see also “Don Gato,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “On Top of Old Smoky,” and some time try singing the full lyrics for “You are My Sunshine.”  Then take up drinking.)  If you clicked, you know I had the dog and the hog backwards.  Bygones.


Public school came with the promise of well-roundedness, at least until 6th grade when they tracked you for college-bound or vo-tech based on your ZIP code and your parents’ occupations (oh, don’t be a baby – yes, they did).  Until your labeling, you could try everything – 4-H, intramural sports, Christmas pageant, or music.  And if you couldn’t afford an instrument, they gave you one.  If you didn’t want to play an instrument, they gave you one anyway.  And you didn’t think of hand sanitizer.

Model One

Accurately called the Tonette.  It is the training bra of music class, one step up from the kazoo.  It had a sharp licorice taste to it and gave easily to your bite when you incorrectly bit down on the mouthpiece.  This usually occurred when you were sucking it hard enough to make it hang from your upper lip.

Model Two


The Recorder proper, suitable for a slightly older child, with that tricky sharp-note hole at the bottom, the capacity to build up even more spit-condensation you never cleaned, and sometimes came in a sexy 2-tone brown and white.  Still plastic, of course.


I always wondered how a school system came under the spell of the recorder salesman.  “He sells concerts!  Squeaky kids’ music manconcerts!  I dunno how he does it, but that’s what he sells!” 

He was in league with the local orthodontists, we are sure of that, and got the living room piano teachers to testify that early music training, especially on a woodwind (no wood – very little wind) was the key to discipline, brain power, and reading music.  And everyone knows what a kid can do with that.

Later generations would have soccer.  We had recorders and baton twirling (save that for a later entry).

There were no parts in recorder concerts as you know them from barbershopchamber music (or a different Music Man reference).  Everyone played the same notes, to better hide those who went wrong, and the line-up was something like this:

Claire de Lune
School Bus Safety Song
Merry Chinamen (or something similarly appalling)
My Country 'Tis of Thee
Tricky Thumbs (meant to show our fingering prowess but it just sounded like mating cats, then someone would hyperventilate and pass out)
A medley of Americana songs which, if we knew the lyrics, would have been about star-crossed tubercular lovers who jump into Niagara Falls and are reunited as a parasitic vine strangling a pine tree.

Break for Lorna Doones and Hi-C. 

Try suggesting the bridge to “I am Woman” or “Fool on the Hill” and find out what goes on in detention.


I thought I had concluded this essay until I came across this in my search results.  I can not WAIT for some of these kids to get their own blogs.


  1. And I know where one of our family's recorders is at this very moment. Perhaps I will get it out and play a little myself. :o) M.

  2. I wish I had been able to share this with all the other 3rd grade parents as we listened to a 40 minute long year-end recorder concert. Baroness


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