New to this Forum but Chairman of Beaminster Gallery Quire. Not a Gallery Quire expert so asking in novice innocence: were recorders (the things we played in school) ever allowed in church and Gallery Quire whether descant, treble, tenor, bass or any of the rarer versions? I know they have changed fingering and tone over the centuries but am not sure why we so rarely see them in Gallery Quire. Although I do admit seeing 50 descant recorders being brushed off for duty might be a bit much for the soprano line to handle :)
Anyone who can help with this novice puzzlement so I can help answer other equally bemused Quire people?
Hello Gillian, I have never seen evidence of gallery bands playing recorders. Following the Restoration there is evidence that psalmody was initially unaccompanied, and that instruments were needed to support the singers. Probably the first to be adopted were bassoon and low strings. Later we find all the woodwind and strings, and even some brass. I know of one band that had a piccolo and two flutes, which must have played above the voices. The singing was likely to include the congregation.
Before the Restoration, I think it's possible that lute and recorder might have accompanied psalm singing. Organs were probably used too. The circumstances were probably private chapels, not congregational but intimate.
If you are interested in what can be played today in your band, we have accepted recorders in other places. We have found that descant can be a bit strident. Treble works well on the alto, an octave above the voice. Tenor and bass can be too quiet to be heard in a typical modern context with other instruments. My policy would be to encourage everyone, whatever they play, but accordions, guitars and keyboards are less suitable as regular members of the modern WG band. Mike Bailey
Many thanks, Mike. I totally understand your logic and know your greater musicianship so gladly bow to that for the realities of today's West Gallery Quires.
I think it is the pragmatist and academic in me that sees church groups today grabbing whatever instrument is locally available more or less whatever the consequences and I wonder if that very human behaviour had 'rules' in the West Gallery era? Was it a social convention that certain instruments were confined to hearth and pub or was it the Church with its more refined musicianship that actively looked for instruments that worked in the space and pieces?
I am curious and happy to take research leads if there is no known answer.
Hello Gillian, If you are keen to research, you might like to look at Burney, which has this mention: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23209371 . The instrument described is what Rollo Woods called a side-blown flageolet. He made one from an Aulos tenor recorder (one of the louder plastic tenors) with the beak enclosed in a piece of plastic tube, and a smaller oval plastic tube glued into the side. The whole was held like a flute. He played this to good effect on alto parts with The Madding Crowd in the 1970's. I'm pretty sure he must have known the Burney reference.
Besides Burney, there was John Hawkins book, overshadowed by Burney's which came out about the same time. Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time has a lot to read in among the music, and includes the period when recorders might have been used more widely. These books and similar are available online now, which makes searching possible, and research more efficient.
As for social conventions, there is evidence from the 17th century that violins were then regarded as unsuitable for church use, since they were played in the street and for dancing. Viols were preferred at this time, but this preference had clearly changed with Handel, Bach and Vivaldi. Biber was an early violinist virtuoso and composer of sacred as well as instrumental music. Vernacular woodwind and to a lesser extent strings were built by local craftsman in some places when professionally made instruments were unaffordable. The Briston cello, made of tinplate, is an example.
Best wishes, Mike