I started making instruments as a teenager, and I think at that time, I was more interested in the technology behind music, rather than in playing it. I use the word technology with reserve, because I am still fascinated by the ‘magic’ involved in turning wood and metal into something so controllable and flexible as a musical instrument. I am also fascinated by the quest for a good balance in an instrument and I don’t find anything quite as satisfying than hearing my instruments played beautifully. I don’t mean beauty in the true sense of the word but more in the control and direction of the instrument, the fact that players can manipulate this simple tube to express their musical wishes and feelings.
Anyway, to return to the story, I started an instrument-making course at the old London College of Furniture in September 1979, enrolling in the woodwind instrument section. My principal teacher was the late Kenneth Collins, a shy, mild mannered man who had a great range of complementary interests. He was a fantastic craftsman, and had worked for many years at the Dolmetsch factory in Haslemere, mostly involved with the handwork on the windways and blocks of recorders. He had a great knowledge of workshop procedures, tool making and problem solving, but unfortunately knew very little about original recorders or tuning and voicing. With his help and encouragement, I completed my first instrument after a lot of late nights and mild frustration in time for Christmas 1979, when I proudly presented it to my brother as a Christmas present.
At that time there was a great deal of interest in making more historically based instruments and I jumped directly onto the bandwagon of the authentic movement. I read all that was written about old recorders and visited as many museums and collections as I could, playing, measuring and photographing their originals. I had additional tuition from Eric Moulder and Graham Lyndon-Jones, who were both professional woodwind makers and part-time lecturers at the college. I think it was quite early on that I realised I would have to travel if I were to make a business out of recorder making. The recorder scene in England was very large but extremely amateur and from a technical point of view, the playing was of a far lower standard than in mainland Europe. So I travelled a lot, visiting both museums and music conservatories, learning about the original recorders at the same time as trying to develop contacts with players.
This practice carried on long after I had finished my course at the LCF in 1982 and had established my first workshop in Reykjavik, Iceland. My contacts with players were essential, to give me the necessary feedback on my work, which as a rotten player, I was unable to judge for myself. Even now, with some 35 years experience, I still rely a great deal on the opinions of my customers, to help me develop my work.
I had an adolescent interest in ancient religions and had read The White Goddess by Robert Graves. When it came to choosing a symbol for my stamp, I rather liked the idea of a moon instead of a star, or other symbol. I think it is supposed to be a décroissante moon, but I’m never really sure. In the cold northern skies of the Netherlands, you only see it this way around in the early morning, and I must admit that I’m not often up then. The letters and size were lifted directly from the Tudor Rose stamp found on the Bressan recorders.
The logo I have been using on all my paperwork since 1992 was an idea of Christophe Deslignes. We had been preparing a lecture for the 1992 Calw Symposium and wanted to give a chronological overview of recorder illustrations in treatises from 1500 to 1640. The joke was that the last image, one hundred and twenty years after the first, looked exactly the same. (It is quite possible that the same woodcuts were used.) In the event, I don’t think that anyone understood our humour.
For the interested, the illustrations come from (left to right): S. Virdung 1511, M. Agricola 1529, S. Ganassi 1535, H. Cardanus c.1546, P. Jambe de Fer c.1556, A. Virgigliano c. 1600, M. Praetorius 1619 (2 recorders), M. Mersenne 1637 and finally P. Trichet c.1640.
The Recorder, A Basic Workshop Manual
I wrote this book after being asked to give a number of lectures on maintenance and tuning and I felt frustrated that there was nothing in print that students could use to help them with practical problems. I now feel that many of the maintenance things in it are either pretty obvious, or highly subjective, and the pictures look a bit dated. I am still very pleased with the tuning bits however, because I think that it was the first attempt to de-mystify and explain this subject in a rational way, without resorting to the usual ‘folklore’.
The great problem with this book lies with its publishers, who despite endless promises, left it out of print for over 15 years. Some years ago, I re-wrote the book with the help of David Lasocki and although I’ve still not seen a copy of the new edition myself, I am told that Dolce Editions are selling it again. It can be ordered directly from the publisher via the above link.