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Author Topic: Official Blockflöte Thread!  (Read 6487 times)

Offline Windsong

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Official Blockflöte Thread!
« on: July 25, 2016, 06:06:23 PM »
My father was a beatnik, among other things, and loved his blockflötes (recorders).  In fact, he was never without one, and probably pretty decent, as I recall.  Personally, I never was a big fan of a single octave instruments, as the music it entitled one to playing was extremely limited, especially without minor notes.  That said, upon his declining health, many years ago, and his reduced desire to play anymore, he gave me two Hohners-- one, a C (MODIFIED) Soprano Hohner, and the other... (MODIFIED, now known to be a C Tenor) well, I have no clue.  Now I know this is a clarinet forum, but I figure if anyone knows anything about Blockflötes, it might also be one of you.  I played a C tenor (MODIFIED: Soprano) in grammar school, and I suspect a good many of you did too, and know something of them.  The unidentifiable one I have is massive, with one solid brass lower joint/Bell pinky key, and the rest, just open tone holes.  It is nearly the size of a modern Bb clarinet, at exactly 25.5" long, all in.
I believe it is made of pearwood, but it may be boxwood, stained medium red.
It's also a Hohner, and if I had to wager a guess, I'd put its manufacture somewhere between 1962 and 1966.  Certainly, he played it all the time when I was young.  As much as I love and appreciate the song now, I sure did get tired of "Oh, Shenandoah" back then!
Internet searches have proven fruitless.  If any of you know what Blockflöte family this may belong to (bass, baritone, etc.), I'd be much obliged to have you chime in.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2016, 06:34:59 PM by Windsong »
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2016, 09:44:05 PM »
It would only be a bass if it had one of the following two characteristics:
1. A crooked neck. Sort of bends back at around a 60 degree angle.
2. A bocal. Sort of like a bassoon bocal but not; it's a long metal thing with a little mouthpiece thingy on it.

Anything larger than a bass must have a bocal or else it would be too hard to play.

I play tenor every now and then at church , and it is around the size of a clarinet. Sounds like the mystery one is a tenor and the other, perhaps an alto?
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2016, 02:59:24 AM »
That 25.5" sounds like a C tenor size to me, but these vary quite a bit more than clarinet lengths. I think the C soprano or an F alto is the one you are referring to as a C-Tenor. It's about a foot long and usually only two parts. An F alto is around 18 - 19 inches, and A C-Tenor is usually about 2 feet long. If you think just a little bit about it, twice the length from soprano to tenor makes perfect sense.

My father also played recorders, but I didn't think of him as a "beatnik". Maybe he was? If he was, he was a conservative beatnik. I still have his Heidelberg F-alto recorder, which I am quite certain is a Schreiber Sonata branded Heidelberg. He also had a nice Harmony 173 "Classic" guitar. That might have been a beatnik instrument as well. I think Dad just liked music and recorder was an easy way for him to start playing as an adult. He was digging the Peter, Paul, & Mary and the Kingston Trio, as well as Beethoven, Bach, etc.

All the recorders that I have played have at least a two octave range, and while the fingering can be a little daunting, the double hole Baroque recorders are fully chromatic. My favorite C tenor is a Roessler stencil that came with an F alto Sonata;- package deal for $16 plus shipping. The Sonata needed corks, the Roessler just needed to be played. There are C tenor models that have two keys at the bottom that allow full chromaticity to the lowest notes. Typically the only difference is the extra key, but these end up priced a good bit higher than the single key tenors.
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2016, 07:08:01 AM »
Having the split key makes a world of difference.  At least, a split key allows for a C# to be played. Otherwise you'll have to try to close the pad halfway and balance it precariously to make it sort of sound right.

My C tenor had only a single key, which makes me sad but then I just skip the C#'s, or raise it an octave.
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2016, 11:38:29 AM »
I have two C tenors and both of them are just the one key types. I also have two rather rare German tenor recorders built in D, one with no keys and one with a single key.

The recorder appears to persist as an instrument of the really "old school" in some ways. Even though the modern baroque fingering system is not exactly historically correct, the instrument still favors arrangements in C major or modes of C major. Those instruments were built during a time when if you wanted to change keys, you changed instruments. It was that simple. Chromaticity belonged to string intruments without frets or with moveable frets if the concept even existed. Remember;- equal temperament is a very recent concept compared to the entire history of music. And equal temperament is harmonically imperfect;- deliberately so. After only a few hundred years, it should still be regarded as "experimental". It's an experiment that has resulted in a very interesting array of key work and physical and mental calisthenics, patents, patent wars, etc. Once upon a time all wind instruments had some kind of tube with some finger holes. When you ran out of fingers, you ran out of possibilities. Largely, these followed the same kind of fingering rules;- the rules we use when we play recorders. The more keys you remove from any wind instrument, the more like a recorder it becomes. In a sense, it becomes most perfect when it has no keys, or just those required to extend a finger reach. That was the original purpose of keys, to make larger instruments possible that could play a full harmonically accurate scale. Once key work became standard, it was used to create chromaticity in smaller instruments. There is a lot to be learned from recorders. 

I am really pleased that someone brought up recorders because since I have been attempting to become an accomplished clarinet player, I have also started playing my recorders more frequently. Conceptually it helps understand the way all woodwind instruments work. Also very useful is my experience with Cherokee flutes, which have a great deal in common with recorders.

There was a time when none of the wind instruments we played were truly chromatic and none were capable of equal temperament. One of the things I want to finally do, is look at the "way" that our early clarinets are "out of tune". If we look at the key the instrument is built for, we might find that optimization for harmonic accuracy in one key persisted well into the late 19th century. It is almost a necessity that this was the case because electronic tuning devices, which I typically discourage the use of, had not replaced the human ear. If a historic instrument plays in tune, it's most likely because the maker could hear in tune harmony. Without a way to calibrate to equal temperament, harmony was probably the guide to tuning the instruments when they were being built. We did not have easily portable electronic tuners until I was a young man. Sets of tuning forks were probably pretty expensive (still are) and even with tuning forks, you have to be able to hear harmony very well. That weird thing in the band room with the flashing dial lights (Conn stroboscope) was not pocket friendly. If you were in the position to need to tune up something like a multi-string harp (or guitar), you tuned to 4ths, 5ths, and had to make a decision about how to handle the major and minor thirds (that pesky B string!).

My working theory, and I really should research this because I am sure others have already looked into it, is that before the 1930s, instrument makers adjusted the tuning of their instruments primarily by ear. What you don't use you lose. Remember when the person that showed up to tune the piano was usually a blind person? That was because blind people develop higher sensitivity to sound. Of course Electronic tuners and click tracks are the death of harmonic nuance and natural rhythm. You may think me a Ludite, but that would put me in company with J.P. Sousa, who felt that the impact of recorded music was such a threat to music being of the people and belonging to most of them, that he went to Congress with his concerns and refused to conduct his band for production of "canned music". You can hear recordings of the Sousa band, but someone other than Sousa is conducting for those.

When someone in an ensemble now says, "Hey we need to stop and tune up", it's the older players that do this. The youngsters don't know if they are out of tune until they check with an electronic device. And they probably are more likely to be on a Pokemon scavenger hunt than checking their tuning with a phone app. The younger generation has almost lost its' ear. Maybe the music was a little too loud? D'ya think? I have a 1972 Marshall 50 Watt half stack. My experience with that is mostly keeping up with my sets of ear plugs. Thank heaven for the quiet recorder and its' persistence as an instrument of both learning and performance. When you need more range, get a bigger one or a smaller one. The melody can move from one player to the other. That's the way early compositions for ensembles worked.

It seems very easy to forget how we arrived where we currently are with musical technology. Once upon a time, our ears were the calibrating tools. Ponder the question of how to produce and manufacture an accurate tuning reference in the mid 1600s. Technology was not there, but the perfect math of harmony was there, as well as the common ability to hear it. Ask for a pitch reference and someone would probably sing a note for you. Then all the following notes are harmonically related to the first one. How else are you going to find them? So our ears derived the math raw because that was the experience of it;- raw air vibrations in our head, and our ears and head were up to the job. Then we used our ears and head to invent technology and now that invented technology has become the tail wagging the dog.

When in doubt, tune to the oboe. If you are on a budget, tune to the recorder.  :) 
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Offline Windsong

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2016, 02:25:40 PM »
Brilliant, again.  Loved it.  Pokemon, no ear, etc.  All spot on.
I knew I was opening the right can of worms in the right place.
I think our dads could have been brothers with the PP&M, and the Kingston Trio.  Add Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, and it's a done deal.  He used to take us all on these Hootenanny camping expeditions in the Appalachian Mountains as a child, bringing his dulcimers and Blockflötes.  I never had a bad time.
Admittedly, I am no great musician, nor, I suspect, will I ever be.  For the record, I don't believe my father was, either, but he always had a great time, and made beautiful music with strangers, wherever we went.  A man must know his limitations, and core talents.  I do, however, have unshakable rythm, and a decent ear, and what is referred to as relative pitch.  If you ask me to sing an A, I might be a wee bit flat or sharp, but you'll get an A.  I have never met an instrument I was afraid to play, and enjoy jamming with friends who just want unrestricted ability to express themselves musically. For me, the blockflöte represents that impromptu energy that is unmistakably "Beatnik", I suppose.   I would like to preserve my father's neglected instruments, and restore them, even though doing so will diminish their value.  Really, I don't care about that.  If after the blockflöte has been refinished you can no longer see the Hohner emblem, I don't think I care.  My old man didn't purchase it because of its moniker; he purchased it because of its sound capabilities, and he'd appreciate the fact that the instument was preserved for play far more than for its originality. 

« Last Edit: July 26, 2016, 02:41:41 PM by Windsong »
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Offline Windsong

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2016, 02:52:14 PM »
Dave,
There's no bocal, so it sounds to me like I've been following the wrong "wind", and most people simply don't know what they have listed on EBay.  It certainly wouldn't be the first time, LOL.
Forgive my ignorance in asking, but how do I determine key on a blockflöte?  Left hand down? 
Sorcerer,
I suspect you're right that my much smaller blockflöte is actually a soprano.  That makes complete sense, given its size
Regards, all. 
« Last Edit: July 26, 2016, 04:15:20 PM by Windsong »
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2016, 04:12:22 PM »
Try getting a tuner and play the following notes: thumb+one finger, thumb+2 fingers, thumb+3 fingers.  If tuner reads B, A, G, respectively, then it's in C. Otherwise, probably in F.
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Offline Windsong

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2016, 04:50:09 PM »
Thank you Dave.
Yes; BAG.
It's a C tenor.
I truly appreciate it.
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2016, 12:51:20 AM »
I have to say I enjoy the sound of the tenor the most out of the entire recorder family. It doesn't have the shrill sound of the sopranino and soprano, and isn't as quiet as the bass.
It's loud enough to be heard yet gentle enough to be peaceful. Excellent for church music, or personal entertainment!
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Offline Silversorcerer

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Re: Blockflötes, anyone?
« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2016, 11:09:12 AM »
I have to say I enjoy the sound of the tenor the most out of the entire recorder family. It doesn't have the shrill sound of the sopranino and soprano, and isn't as quiet as the bass.
It's loud enough to be heard yet gentle enough to be peaceful. Excellent for church music, or personal entertainment!
I totally agree with that although the most popular one seems to be the alto size.

The D tenors I have are two very different sounding instruments even though these are nearly identical in dimensions. One is a really dark wood, definitely not grenadilla and probably not ebony either and the other is a lighter wood, perhaps sycamore. The sycamore has undercut tone holes and plays better up the register and has a reedy kind of voice. The dark one is very dark sounding and something like a wooden transverse flute in the low tones. That one the range is just barely two octaves but the sound is so sweet.

Maybe we should do an official recorder thread or turn this one into it.

Windsong, you mentioned refinishing your father's Hohner and I think if there is bare wood showing, refinishing probably will not hurt the value. Depending on your approach, I think it would increase the value. Not seeing it, I am guessing but most of these old recorders were either finished with shellac or nitrocellulose. In either case, it is possible to match shellac to the shade of the finishes and touch up the bare wood areas without completely stripping the original finish. What typically removes value is removing wood. It's common to want to have a perfect wood finish, particularly if you have those skills, but you have to approach restoration with restraint if preservation is the goal. It's not always the goal and not always the most favored path. Every case is unique. I personally don't see a problem with refinishing a Hohner pearwood recorder, if it has considerable finish loss.

I have used dilute shellac to stabilize deteriorating nitrocellulose very successfully on some vintage guitar bodies. The alcohol will not dissolve the nitrocellulose, which makes the process very controllable. If it is old shellac, I usually just use ethanol on a bob to bring it back to a French polish. My guess is that a Hohner from that period is probably finished with nitrocellulose. It was extremely popular for musical instruments in the mid 20th century. All nitrocellulose finishes are a time bomb. It oxidizes and crumbles eventually. Sealing it with dilute shellac freezes the oxidation process and preserves whatever is left of the nitro finish. It blends almost seamlessly with vintage finishes and is very easy to renew. Best to use the shellac in very dilute mix when using it for touch up and stabilization.
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Official Blockflöte Thread!
« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2016, 04:37:39 PM »
Using my super-duper moderator powers I have changed the title of this thread. Hope you don't mind :)
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Official Blockflöte Thread!
« Reply #12 on: August 11, 2016, 01:51:59 AM »
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Offline Windsong

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Re: Official Blockflöte Thread!
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2016, 10:33:21 PM »
Just caught this, Dave.
I mean, can something be super freaky and amazing at the same time?
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Offline andybeals

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Re: Official Blockflöte Thread!
« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2016, 04:27:01 AM »
So much more interesting than the stodgy San Francisco Early Music Society's concerts.
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