Memories of a recorder teacher...
My mother was an enthusiastic recorder player and student of early music. This music was my first music, and it has stayed with me to this day. To firmly cement this dusty repertoire into my consciousness my mother did more. Every Tuesday morning she pulled me along to her recorder lesson with Miss Augusta Bleys, an austere Dutch woman who lived in a dark multi-arched Richardson Romanesque in East Denver. The building itself was dark, but inside, in the room where Miss Bleys taught, I remember amber-coloured wood, and piles of music. For me , it was a remarkable place, for I was convinced that the room itself was constructed out of the innumerable music scores that lay around the room. To my young eyes, the walls were made out of Schott editions; a gentle beige color that had the look of plaster. The ceiling was supported (how could it be?) by stacks of consort music, obscure and erudite collections from Budapest, Oxford and Amsterdam. A child's perspective is at once both skewed and insightful. To me, these columns of music were so immense that they touched the far away ceiling of that old Denver home. This could not be, but in another way, my vision touched on the truth. The collections of might not have supported the ceiling, but they certainly came to the aid to Miss Bleys herself. She was a frail creature, too weak , it seemed, to stand on her own. As delicate as a boxwood recorder, she crossed the room by leaning on her handy collections of Frescabaldi, Gervaise and Dr. Bull. With the help of these piles of music, her motions, like her fingers on the recorder, were deft and sure. Without them, I knew with a child's certainty, that Miss Bleys would collapse and her room, with her music, would turn to dust.
What brought Augusta Bleys to the provincial western city of my 1960’s childhood? A failed love affair, perhaps and she decided to stay on. But not only stay on, but to teach as well. For if If Miss Bleys didn't teach Van Eck divisions and Dowland in that provincial place, who would? Far away from the Van Gogh Museum and the charming canals of her native city, Miss Bleys became a missionary for St. Cecilia to the unconverted. She swept my mother into the fold, I, both helpless and fortunate, had no choice but to follow.
It was in that room held together with scores of consort music, that I first heard and took to my heart the sounds of the Renaissance. And now, almost half a century later, when I play or hear those clear sounds, I not only hear, but I also see. I see beyond the strettos and the points of imitations, I see all the way back to my early times, to Miss Bley's room.. And there she is: angular, with a wooden flute in one hand, drawing back the drapes of her studio to let in the morning light. And then, so clear is the music and the vision, that I can see the dust of that music-laden room, swirling from the quickness of her motions. I see it settle on the selves and columns of music., on the Frescabaldi and Cooperario. Miss Bleys is always there. She never leaves. She will never leave that place. Now she grows tall., so tall that she can reach the highest shelves that I thought were beyond reach. A place where I thought there was no music. But there is music there. It rests on the shelf saved for the Praetorious editions. In that room, how could there not be Praetorious? Miss Bleys touches the music and begins to bring it down. But now she stops.
She remains there for me; one hand holding the boxwood flute, the other with the music, bringing it down from the highest place.