This week I am excited to present guest blogger Elizabeth Coombes on the use of the treble recorder in music therapy.
Elizabeth Coombes is the Course Leader of the MA Music Therapy at the University of South Wales. She qualified as a music therapist in 2000, after working for some years as a community musician. She has worked with a wide range of client groups, and still manages to keep up clinical work with young people with Learning Disabilities, End of Life Care and Asylumseeking families. She is also on the Advisory Panel of Musica s Therapy International, and works on projects supporting their work in Palestine and the UK. Elizabeth writes:
‘Oh what great and heavenly contemplation is in this trifling thing…’ (Fludd, 1617)
‘I’ve been recommending my students read Becky’s blog; I’m certainly finding food for thought in the series of posts written about the instruments we use in our work.
Nicky Haire wrote recently about bringing one’s musical history into a session, including an embodied knowing of our instrument. This has spurred me on to write about my relationship with the recorder, the first instrument I learned to play when I was around 8 years old. I remember the sheer thrill of being inducted into the mysteries of learning to read music; all those little symbols and signs translated miraculously into sound! And it was such a great feeling showing I could finger B, A and G, holding the descant recorder aloft with 30 other children, vying for teacher to see us.
My parents bought me a wooden descant recorder and my own copies of books 1 and 2 of a ‘How to Play the Recorder’ book. I spent hours in my bedroom, working my way through these. Then in the final year of Primary School I was given a treble recorder by the music teacher, and this brought fresh challenges. It wasn’t until many years later, while working on a music therapy project in Palestine that I was to realise the potential of this instrument in music therapy.
In the Tudor era, the recorder was beloved of kings and common folk alike, with Henry VIII supposedly having 76 recorders of varying types in his collection. Every home had a least one recorder enthusiast, and the sound of these instruments in their many forms was a popular way of providing home entertainment. Much recorder music was marked ‘ad tabulam’, meaning it could be played ‘at the table’ accompanying mealtimes with its dulcet tones. By the late 17th century, though, it had reached its heyday, and subsequently was sidelined by the more brilliant and flamboyant-sounding flute.
For me, part of the charm of the recorder, and particularly the treble, is its inherent simplicity. A wooden pipe with fingerholes, and with many recorders having no keys to manipulate, it is deceptively easy to play. It can have a tone that is mellow, evoking the countryside, or bright and birdlike with a silvery ethereal sound. When used in Renaissance theatre music it often heralded the appearance of a magical being, or something out of the ordinary happening. In my view, then, the treble recorder can add something very special to the musical experience that can be offered in music therapy.
In 2011 I travelled to Palestine to work on a skillsharing project with teachers and social workers. I was taken to a small special needs school where some 20 children were ushered in to a room in which I had been ensconced. I was told it was their ‘rest time’, and that usually music from Youtube was played while the children lay on cushions. Could I play something for them? I had no idea of how I could play culturally authentic music on the treble recorder, but pushed these concerns to one side and focussed on making music in the moment for them. I allowed myself to feel the atmosphere in the room and see the children lying there on the cushions at my feet, some peeking at me, some more obediently closing their eyes in response to the teachers’ commands. Slowly and with growing confidence I explored the sounds of the recorder. I used some of the lower notes to provide a more containing space. Higher brighter sounds were added to the simple, clear melody. One child moved up against my leg and pressed himself against me, looking up at me with big eyes, drinking in the sound. It seemed as though there was a synchronisation of breath and feeling in the room for the few minutes the music lasted.
Ever since that day, I have never been without my treble recorder in a music therapy session. It isn’t always appropriate to use it, but it is ever present. It’s an instrument on which I know I can be congruent and authentic, as Luke Annesley discussed in his post in this series, and that is something that is vital to a music therapists therapeutic skillset’.