An Adventure with My Recorder
Songhe Wang, PhD
In China, associate professors must retire at the age of fifty-five, and full professors at sixty. These days, many retired people take classes in calligraphy, painting, or musical instruments. One reason is that they want to keep themselves active so as to maintain good health; another is that they want to do what they could not do when they were young.
I am fifty this year, so I have about ten years to go before retirement. But I can’t wait that long to take classes in music, which is one of the things I love most. So in July, 2010, when I was in the US for a year of study and teaching, I bought a vertical recorder and an instructional book with it. Unlike most of the Chinese people I know, I did not buy a piano, erhu, or something else.
One of the reasons why I bought a recorder was simply that it was cheaper than the piano or erhu. I bought the recorder for five dollars in a Wal Mart. Another reason and also more important reason was that it was portable. I needed something I could carry with me when I like. In this sense, I could easily have the recorder in my purse, even in my pocket. Then I began to teach myself how to play it.
So far, the learning experiences have really been a wonderful adventure to me. But that doesn't mean it has always been easy. In the first few days, I remember, I could only produce jarring sounds with every possible effort. Even so, the jarring sounds were enough for me to get excited for a while. As a person of perseverance, as I've been since childhood, I tried my best to spare time to practice it every day.
One day, I was playing “Love Somebody”, sitting on my bed under the fan on the ceiling in my apartment in Conway, AR, the air from the fan above blew my long hair up/ flopping, and the nice tune from my recorder made me feel as if I were sitting on the top of a mountain with fresh air moving around me. For the first time I tasted the charm of a musical instrument, especially the recorder.
The recorder to me is like a person with a plain but pleasant appearance. It is a stick with 8 holes in it, no fancy dressing or shining make up on it, but the small and humble body can produce beautiful sounds or music. What is more, inside the “humble ” body, there is a strong will. I experience the recorder's will all the time. If I don’t practice day after day, we cannot have a good relationship. I remember, one day, I practiced so much that there was a small area on my upper lip broken. At that moment, I suddenly understood the well-known Chinese saying often repeated by artists: One minute’s good performance on the stage needs ten years’ practice.
The more I practiced, the more I learned about the recorder. To play the recorder well, many things count: how hard you blow the air; how well your fingers cover the holes; where you blow the air. The most important thing of all is what state your mind is. I found if I played with a clear mind or a peaceful mind, I could play fluently from the beginning to the end almost without mistake, and the tune was smooth, peaceful and pleasant to hear. However, if I played with something else in my mind, I often either forget the scores or lyrics, or made mistakes, and the tune sounded rough, not clear or pure.
I also found that when I played in a calm spirit, I could feel the music come into me, and something nice flew out from my heart. I just can’t describe it with words. Anyway, it was as if I had been in a different world where there was no noise, no crowdedness, no pretension, no showing-off. My body and mind were totally at ease and peace. I noticed as well that when I heard the music with my heart, I could play well.
Last year I had two trips. Of course, I had my recorder with me all the way. One was to a place in Inner Mongolia which is famous for great grassland. I played my recorder to the grass, and I was sure the grass could hear it; the other was to Qinghai Lake, which is the biggest inland lake and also the biggest salty lake in China. I did the same thing to the lake, too. I was certain the lake could feel it. By so doing, I just felt I was mingled or connected with nature with the help of my little friend, the recorder.
My love for the recorder gave me courage. When I was playing the recorder to the grass and the lake, the tourists around me looked at me in surprise, and they asked me if I was a musician. I said “no” and “yes” to them. By “no,” I meant by profession I am not a musician; but by “yes”I meant I am a musician of my own life. I am trying to make music of my life, as are we all.
My learning- how-to-play-the-recorder experiences remind me of what ancient artists did. It is said that a long time ago before performers/artists played the seven-string musical instrument called Qi Xianqin or Guqin in Chinese, they first had a bath, then put on clean clothes, and finally chose a quiet and beautiful place in the open air and began to play. They believed in this way the best music could come out.
There was wisdom here. We not only need a bath for our body, but also need something to wash and free our heart and soul. Now four years have passed since I started. Each time I play the recorder is the time for me to enjoy the peace of mind and free my imagination. In the process of learning, I have developed the ability that when I am in a crowded and noisy surroundings, I can enjoy coolness and calm of the mind; while I am alone, I don’t feel lonely, as I feel surrounded by invisible wonderful things, such as music, the love for music, etc. I am still travelling and exploring in the world of music. And so far, I have harvested excitement, joy, peace of soul and happiness from the adventure with my recorder. We have a good relationship, still developing over time, in the context of which my soul is growing wider. For that I am very grateful.