May 2020
The Socially Distanced Recorder Player
by ARS Board member Phil Hollar
We are living in a profoundly different world than the one in which we began 2020. In this time of social distancing, recorder players are finding themselves isolated from the musical groups that they are accustomed to playing with. As humans are social creatures, so recorders are social instruments. While there is some fine solo literature for the instrument, the bulk of recorder literature is for some form of musical ensemble. What is a recorder player to do without consort or continuo?

While we can stay connected socially via apps like Zoom and FaceTime, the technology does not allow us to stay connected musically. There is simply too much latency, or lag time, for two or more players to play together over the internet. That doesn’t mean, however, that you must forego ensemble music altogether. This article will delve into some of the workarounds available for playing multi-part music with only one player.  
Record Yourself, Then Play Along
Perhaps the simplest way to accompany yourself is to record one part of a duet on your phone or tablet. Most smart phones and tablets can record both audio and video, so a player can make a recording without having to invest in any additional recording equipment. Simply play back the recording and play the second part of the duet along with it. In this way, you can easily play duets or perhaps even a continuo part.
Playing music with more than two parts is a bit more complicated. We have all seen the YouTube videos featuring one performer playing multiple recorder parts. Here is ARS member, recorder professional, and teacher Emily O'Brien celebrating spring with "Now is the Month of Maying."
Apps such as Audacity ( ) and Acapella ( ) make multi-tracked audio and video recording accessible to everyone, but there is a bit of a learning curve as you get used to the app’s functionality. Multi-tracking allows you to play all parts of a piece individually and then assemble them in the app. Depending on the program, you may need to purchase additional microphones or other recording gear, but there are apps available that will give you a serviceable recording with just a smart phone and earphones. 
Play Along with ARS Recordings
If you would rather avoid having to record the accompaniment yourself, there are also prerecorded accompaniments available. These play-along recordings work much like karaoke. The backing music is all included on the recording and you simply play the solo part over it. The American Recorder Society website offers many pieces that include prerecorded accompaniment. These pieces are available as a free member benefit to all ARS members. To access them, navigate to the American Recorder Society Downloadable Music Libraries page and select “Recorded Accompaniment” in the Style dropdown box. Other online sources such as Baroque Personal Trainer offer accompaniment tracks for a modest fee. The  Telemannator app actually allows you to play canons with yourself in real time!
Play Along with CDs
There are also numerous sources for recorded accompaniment on compact disc. The most well-known of these is Music Minus One, a company that has been producing prerecorded accompaniments since 1950. Music Minus One and other similar companies provide the sheet music along with CD accompaniment. There are many of these recorder publications available. You can contact your favorite purveyor of recorder music for recommendations and to see what is currently available. 
Unique Challenges
There are difficulties inherent in playing with any recorded accompaniment. Keeping the beat together is the most obvious problem. Recorded accompaniments, while providing a steady pulse just like a metronome, often makes the pulse harder to perceive than it is on a metronome. In a live ensemble, other players will automatically adjust their tempo to fit with yours, something that a recording cannot do. This puts the burden of adjusting tempo squarely on your shoulders when playing along with a recording. Likewise, a recording cannot react to any other nuance in your playing. Ideally, a performance with other players should be a dialogue, but the recording may make it seem more like a monologue.

Even so, a recorded playing partner can be better than no playing partner at all. Just being able to hear how the music fits together will make you better prepared to play with other people when this pandemic crisis is finally over. Let’s hope that occurs safely, if not soon.
Phil Hollar is an ARS Board member, music director, and recorder teacher based in Greensboro, NC.
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