Recorder Society of Long Island breathes new life into elementary school staple

By Vincent Asito and Margaret Osborne

After instructing the band to clap to the rhythm of “America” from West Side Story, Patsy Rogers, a professional musician, lifts her arms to conduct. Across from her sit 16 adult recorder players from Long Island.  

While many might remember fumbling through “Hot Cross Buns” on an elementary school recorder in music class, the Recorder Society of Long Island (RSLI) takes playing more seriously.

It’s a chapter affiliated with the American Recorder Society, which is a non-profit membership organization representing “players throughout the U.S., Canada, and 30 countries around the world.”

“There’s a whole subculture of recorder players in the U.S.,” Diana Foster, President of RSLI, explained. During the summer, recorder players can attend workshops across the country, she said, including seminars at Connecticut College.

Like many, Foster started playing the recorder when she was a child. With her sister, she played folk duets on the guitar and recorder. It wasn’t until Rogers approached her with the idea of starting a group that Foster began to take playing recorder more seriously. She now plays in several bands, including a renaissance group, a baroque group and a performance group and has been president of the RSLI for 4 years.

During the monthly meetings, players switch frequently between soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders, depending on which instruments they bring–many own several. These instruments can range from being inches tall to over 8 ft. There are also baroque and renaissance recorders, which have different ranges, and F and C pitched recorders, which have different fingerings.

“It’s fun,” Foster said. “It’s a challenge. I think as we get older, we enjoy the fact that there’s so much still to learn.”

RSLI meets on the second Saturday of each month at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Dix Hills to rehearse. This meeting serves as a mentorship program, combining more experienced and less experienced players to learn from each other.  Each month, a new professional recorder player leads the rehearsal, usually brought in from the metropolitan area, Philadelphia or Boston.  

Having a different conductor helps players learn new techniques, Pat Cassin, a member of RSLI, said.

“It broadens my outlook on different kinds of music and styles of playing,” she said.

In addition to rehearsing monthly, RSLI has workshops for more advanced players. The group has also played in schools and in expositions with students.

“We felt that having members of our group going to play would encourage the kids to continue what they are doing in school,” Cassin said, adding that the recorder has its advantages over other instruments because it’s cheaper and “relatively easy to learn, but hard to master.”

In addition to learning music, recorder players have the opportunity to socialize with one another during the monthly meetings. The rehearsal breaks halfway through, and players bond over coffee, tea and homemade desserts.