Jan Groh had asked for a flute for Christmas. And so of course she got, instead, a cheap plastic recorder. “I was probably 6 or 7,” she says. “I didn’t know the difference.”
Though she finally did receive her much-desired silver flute a few years later, she found herself returning again and again to the recorder. It was something about its earthy tone, the way it felt in her hands, its ancient history and unpopularity. She was becoming, as she’d find out later in life, one of those amateur musicians: the dreaded “early-music geek.”
One of the chief signs of this resurgence in grassroots-level early-music activity is the rebirth of the Portland Recorder Society. The Society is kind of like classical music’s answer to community theater—a place for enthusiastic amateurs to hone their skills, play with others and get feedback from more seasoned players. It’s at the Recorder Society meetings (the third Friday of each month at McMenamins Kennedy School in Northeast Portland) that Jan and her partner in the Nachtigal (that’s German for “nightingale”) Duo, Charles Schweigert, take the lead on massed recorder works like Handel’s “Water Music,” led by the fabulous professional Seattle recorder player, Vicki Boeckman. Groh says as many as 40 people come to these meetings to play and socialize.
Much as she loves these open sessions with the Society, Groh’s especially psyched about the duo opportunities she and Schweigert are getting around town, bringing 17th- and 18th-century music to the masses. Their current regular gig, every third Thursday: It’s a Beautiful Pizza on Southeast Belmont Street. “It’s a little incongruous,” Groh admits. But she revels in the chance to be “approachable and accessible to our audience. Sometimes people ask, ‘Who was that composer?’ or, ‘What was that?’ And children are very intrigued,” she adds. “I feel like I’m the Pied Piper when I’m around.”
Could Groh and her Recorder Society cohorts be leading, then, a whole new “underground early-music movement” in Portland? That remains to be seen. But she says she enjoys honing her craft in front of pizza-munching moms. “Sometimes people clap, which is great,” Groh says. But there’s also a downside: She and Schweigert work, for now at least, for free. “We don’t get a lot of tips,” Groh says. “We’d like some more tips.”
SEE IT: It’s a Beautiful Pizza, 3342 SE Belmont St., 233-5444. 6 pm Thursday, Jan. 17. Donation.