October 11, 2002

Don't Do It

Someday there will be a child in your life. It might be your own; it might be a niece or nephew; it might be the child of a close friend. And you will need to buy them a birthday or Christmas gift. And you will be at the music store or the book store or even (quite possibly) at Costco, and you'll see a Disney song book with a plastic recorder attached to it. And you'll think (especially if the child is not your own), "Music! How lovely! I'll help them learn to love music." And you'll buy them the Disney song book with the plastic recorder attached to it. And yea, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth when the child opens the package and the child's parents see the Disney song book with the plastic recorder attached to it.

For what you have just done is given this child an extremely high pitched, badly tuned whistle. The chances of the child learning to play the songs in the song book without help from an adult are slim and none. The chances of the child even learning to blow properly by his or herself are slim and none. And even if they did, the plastic recorder attached to the Disney song book probably isn't worth the plastic it contains.

Jane and I were at Ikea today. And in their children's section, they had a selection of toy musical instruments. One of them was a black plastic recorder--the usual size, a soprano. They wanted $4.95 for it. We were buying a number of other things, and I was curious how bad it was, so I nabbed it.

Oh, dear. The tone is awful, to begin with. The high notes are simply not to be listened to--if you can play them at all. Clear and crisp and clean and pretty are not words you would associate with the sound of this recorder.

And the thing that makes this so sad is that for $4.95 (mail-order from Courtly Music Ltd., among other places) you can buy a plastic recorder, made by Yamaha, of truly outstanding quality. I've got a number of recorders, including a bass recorder for which I paid more than I like to think about, and the soprano recorder I play the most is a $4.95 Yamaha recorder molded in translucent plastic with an evil green tint. My friends tease me about it mercilessly--but only about the appearance, not about the sound.

So if you're bound and determined to buy that child a Disney song book and a recorder, at least buy them a decent recorder to go with the song book. Their parents won't thank you--an overblown recorder sounds ugly no matter how nice it really is--but on the hundred to one chance they really have what it takes to learn to play it on their own, at least they won't get discouraged by how bad it sounds.

Posted by Will Duquette at October 11, 2002 08:43 PM