Jennifer Mackerras reflects on ORDA 2017

Jennifer Mackerras reflects on ORDA 2017

ORDA has fast become one of the most exciting international music festivals, and this year saw its third edition, filled with a huge variety of masterclasses, concerts, and competitions. Jennifer Mackerras shares her experiences of the festival along with some more general reflections on amateur music making...

This October, my duet partner Tim and I packed our recorders and headed to The Netherlands for Open Recorder Days Amsterdam 2017. As the Biber Duo we entered the ORDA competition (the category for amateur groups over age 16), and we booked some of the workshops and concerts. This article is a thoroughly personal account of my experience at ORDA - the highlights and the questions it raised for me.


Thursday - competition, round 1

As soon as we arrived,  Tim and I realised we were easily the oldest competitors in our category, and that there were very few other adult amateur competitors in any of the other categories. The building was filled with teenage (and younger) aspiring young professionals! We performed our Round 1 programme for the judges, but knew that we probably wouldn’t have the chance of getting through to the next round. Watching the video back afterwards, though, we considered that we played extremely well, which was pleasing.

A highlight of the day was watching Daniel Brüggen’s masterclasses with BLOCK4 (UK)  and Chicas del David (Italy). For me, there were two major learning points:

• after working hard to be an ensemble, you then have to work at also being a soloist within the ensemble;

• ‘not playing music’ - so many of us use physical movement and gesture to try to ‘carry’ the music. Rather, we should allow the gesture to happen within the music and primarily through what we actually need to do to play the instrument. Brüggen isn’t anti-movement, but he wants a player’s gesture to be integrated with the music, rather than a metronomic response or a ‘presentation’ of what the player wants to project to the listeners.


Highlight 1: the Advanced Plus workshop with Marco Magalhães, working mostly on Cabezon’s Susanna un Jour, in Marco’s own arrangement. This was a fabulous learning experience. Marco is a great communicator and a truly lovely gentleman, and I would heartily recommend him to anyone as a teacher and workshop leader.

Highlight 2: a hugely inspiring interactive workshop on using live electronics with Jorge Isaac.Before even picking up a microphone, we learned the importance of discovering what frequencies and sounds your instrument produces from different areas - near the labium, near the bell, to the side, behind the player… This was followed by advice on microphones: positioning and setting levels, demystifying the mixing desk,  playing with effects pedals, working with computer software… Isaac even very generously gave everyone three of his own CDs to take away and enjoy.

Tim and I knew we wouldn’t make it to the semi-finals against all the young wunderkind players, but we went along to hear the semi-finalists announced anyway. Then we went off and had a really excellent dinner to commiserate.


Sunday was occupied in the morning by rehearsals for the lunchtime ORDA concert, featuring performances by all three of Magalhães’ workshop groups, and the premiere of Kra-Watt K19. The concert passed with few disasters and some very good playing in parts, and we all disappeared to get refreshment before returning to hear the competition finals.


A question that presented itself clearly to me throughout the festival was - where are the amateur adults players? I think this is a serious issue that the recorder world needs to consider. I’m not a professional player, and neither is my duet partner. He works in computing and I earn my living from teaching Alexander Technique, mostly to musicians. We have full lives. But we love the recorder, play concerts, and want to improve. We want to be the best players we can be. We entered the competition because it was a great way to hone our skills. And I’m quite certain that we aren’t the only adults in Europe who are interested in being properly accomplished amateur players. So why didn’t they come to ORDA and enter the competition?

I think Evelyn Nallen hinted at the answer in the Teachers’ Conference, where she spoke on ‘Bridging the gap between amateurs and professionals’. There was a general atmosphere in the room that suggested that teachers don’t necessarily have that much contact with adult players, or if they do, that they don’t necessarily expect very much of them. We encourage our young students to work hard and progress. Do we do the same of our adult students? In workshops and playing days, do we encourage an atmosphere of improvement, or do we expect adult participants to rate the playing as no more important than the socialising with home-made cake? Many adult players were aspiring teenagers once. They deserve to be taken seriously.

Finally, I want to thank María Martínez Ayerza and colleagues for organising the event so well, and the Conservatorium van Amsterdam for being so welcoming. ORDA 2017 was full of amazing concerts, workshops and brilliant people. When it comes around again in 2019, you must go. Really. Especially if you’re over 20!

More about Jennifer:

Consonant Conversation: An interview with the Consone Quartet

Consonant Conversation: An interview with the Consone Quartet

Alice Trocellier - Strozzi by day, Streisand by night: The Early Music Nerd's Guide to Pop Music

Alice Trocellier - Strozzi by day, Streisand by night: The Early Music Nerd's Guide to Pop Music