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Pensacola group to debut rare musical instrument

The Pensacola Early Music Consort
The Pensacola Early Music Consort
The Pensacola Early Music Consort

Charles Tucker knows that his instrument of choice isn't always taken seriously.

"When people say, I play a recorder, most everybody ... will say, 'Oh, that's that little thing you played in elementary school,'" he said. "And right you are, but that's only one member of 11 ranging from six inches to 15 feet."

Tucker leads the Pensacola Early Music Consort, a group dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music. The consort features performers from across the Southeast who specialize in what might best be described as “obscure” instruments, musical misfits with odd-sounding names like "crumhorn," "hurdy-gurdy" and, my personal favorite, "sackbut" — which, contrary to all reason, is not an insult, but an instrument.

Pensacola Early Music Consort performs

In fact, among this orchestra of oddities, the weird and winsome woodwind might be the least obscure. The recorder, Tucker is quick to point out, has enjoyed a long and serious musical history, having been employed by everyone from Bach to The Beatles, Handel to Hendrix.

"Our goal is to help educate the public that a recorder is not just this little soprano that they see in elementary school kids' hands," Tucker said, "but (rather) it's a serious instrument that has a wide range of stuff."

And while there are many types of recorders, the most serious — indeed, the grand poohbah of all recorders — is the sub-sub-great bass. It plays a 32 Hertz “C,” which is the lowest “C” note on most pianos. At nearly 16 feet long, it has to be wrapped around itself like a bassoon for a musician to reach the mouthpiece.

A Paetzgold sub sub great bass recorder
A Paetzgold sub sub great bass recorder, manufactured by the German company Kunath

It’s a rare specimen, with only seven such instruments in existence. The Pensacola Early Music Consort owns the only one in North America, and they will debut it at a special performance this weekend.

The consort spent roughly $10,000 to have the instrument manufactured in Germany.

"It was in their catalog," Tucker said, "but the prototype hadn't been built. So it took us over three years to get that thing. It is so big that their next smaller size, they can use their mechanical finger mechanisms for both hands, but (for) this one, the right hand had to be made into an electromechanical system."

If you want to hear the Pensacola Early Music Consort perform for yourself, you can do so at 3 p.m. this Sunday at Pensacola’s St. Paul Lutheran Church. The event is free and open to the public.

T.S. Strickland is an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, Entrepreneur and many other publications. Strickland was born and raised in Pensacola's Ferry Pass neighborhood and cut his teeth working as a newspaper reporter in the Ozark Mountains before returning home to work as a government reporter for the Pensacola News Journal. While there, his reporting earned a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors, one of the highest professional awards in the state. In his spare time, he enjoys building software products, attending Pensacola Opera performances with his effervescent partner, Brooke, and advocating for greenway development with the nonprofit he co-founded, The Bluffline.