The recorder: Musical payback for parents

Ian Mendes believes that the recorder is the ultimate form of parental karma.

1photo Ian's daughter Elissa practices the recorder. Photo: Ian Mendes

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with wife, Sonia.

There are days when I am certain that parenthood is nothing more than a series of elaborate repayments for what happened in your own childhood.

If you were a whiny kid growing up, then you are going to be dealing with a fussy child of your own.

If you complained about not getting braces when you were a teenager, chances are your child will need extensive orthodontic work — leaving you with a good idea of why your own parents may have skipped some costly procedures.

And that brings us to the recorder, which I believe is the ultimate form of parental karma. Adults have been cursing the recorder since the late 1800s. And while we’ve been able to eradicate polio and smallpox since then, the recorder has managed to survive.

Almost 30 years ago, I terrorized my own family with crappy renditions of “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” My parents often asked me to practice with my bedroom door closed. Or to try it at a friend’s house.


And now it’s come full circle because the other day Elissa came home from school and uttered these six terrifying words: “We’re learning the recorder at school.”

The problem with the recorder is that even if your child is a Beethoven-in-training you will never know it from their ability to play this instrument. Every song sounds the same. Shrill, high-pitched and sounding like “Hot Cross Buns.” Or “Three Blind Mice.” Or “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” Again, I don’t know because all these bloody songs sound the same to me.

In grade four, every child has to learn the recorder. On one hand, I understand the rationale because this is a great introduction for students to musical instruments. Recorders are cheap and are usually priced somewhere between a kazoo and a harmonica. The problem is they are just as annoying as both of those cheap mouth instruments. (I’m starting to realize that you need to spend north of $20 if you don’t want to be annoyed by a musical instrument).

But making the recorder mandatory for students is tough because this will also scare an equal number of children away from musical instruments for life. I could have been the world’s greatest harpist, but I was scarred by my experience with the recorder and turned to a life of video games and baseball instead.


I do find it ironic that it’s called a “recorder” because I have yet to see anyone actually record video or audio of a child playing the instrument. Think about it, have you ever been sent a video file titled “Morgan’s first recorder lesson”? Even a Vine video of a recorder performance seems like it would be six seconds too long.

Or has anybody ever invited you to a recorder recital?

The answer is no, because for several generations now, parents have decided to make the recorder their own personal horror. You don’t need to share the terror with innocent friends and family members.

I admit I would be a little more interested if they taught kids some more recent songs for the recorder. The playlist remains the same as the ones that kids had in those single-room schoolhouses from 1875. When “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” remains a staple, you know the playlist is stale.


Who wouldn’t want to hear a class of nine-year-olds playing “Poker Face” or “Hit Me Baby (One More Time)” on a recorder?

Actually never mind. I’d probably take a pass on that concert as well.

This article was originally published on Dec 05, 2013

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