Pearls of music

February 19, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Naomi Styer promises that the recorders being played at Washington County Museum Consort's 30th anniversary concert are more evolved than the plastic instruments your child played in school.

Usually made from wood, the recorders found in the hands of veteran musicians can take on a quite a different sound. "They can be likened to a vocal choir," she says.

In fact, the recorder is found in a variety of vocal ranges - from soprano to bass - the same found in a vocal choir. There are also reproduction recorders from the Baroque and Renaissance eras. The Museum Consort will play some of these in its "Pearls are Gems, Too" concert at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22.

To honor the consort's 30th anniversary, Wayne Wold, college organist and associate professor of music at Hood College, was commissioned to write a piece; it's titled "Pearl Suite." The pearl is representative of the gem that symbolizes 30th anniversaries. This is the third piece Wold has written for the consort.


The five-movement piece has two original movements - the first and fifth - bracketing older compositions, all from various eras and all with "pearl" in the title, Wold says.

Wold says writing for recorders is more limiting than, say, writing for strings. "There is not as wide a range (in tone) or as wide of range in volume," he says.

He says every instrument has its limitations, but, for a composer, therein lies the challenge to be creative. For "Pearl Suite," Wold says he made a point to showcase as many different recorders as possible. He says he wants the audience to notice different textures in the music and appreciate the variety of elements.

David Styer, fellow consort member and Naomi's husband, says listening to the consort is a musical experience.

"It's different from anything else," he says.

One recorder, called the krummhorn, is a capped, double-reed, woodwind instrument that curves to look like the letter J. It was used often in the Renaissance-era. Naomi says when tuning, the instrument can sound like a kazoo. "We make it a point to tune before we play so they audience can laugh before we play the piece," she says.

When Naomi and David, both music teachers, moved to Hagerstown in the 1970s, they first joined the long-established Elizabeth-towne Recorder Consort. The Museum Consort, a spin-off of that original consort, was founded by Louise B. Hewitt, a retired music teacher. Hewitt wanted advanced players for a group that would perform regularly. The name of the new ensemble reflected the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, where the consort performs.

The Styers are the only two original members of the Museum Consort, which also includes Kathy Barr, Jeff Clise, Brenda Slick and William Hull.

"I felt very fortunate to have congenial people to play with," Naomi says of the group.

David says, for him, his continued involvement in the group is simply about the music.

"In playing early music, the musicians are free to make many of the decisions regarding the playing of the music," he says. "It uses much more creativity because of the freedom it gives to the musicians."

David says people will often "discover" the consort while visiting the museum and wandering into the room. Usually, he says, they'll stay. His piece of advice when happening upon the ensemble: "Try it, you'll like it."

If you go ...

WHAT: Museum Consort's 30th anniversary "Pearls are Gems, Too" concert

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown

COST: Free

CONTACT: For more information, call 301-739-5727 or visit

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