In his lectures about music and music education, Rudolf Steiner gave indications to bring a wind instrument to the children upon entering their school years (after the change of teeth). "You should choose a wind instrument, as the children will learn most from this..." (The Kingdom of Childhood, 1924). He did not specify a recorder, per se (which was never meant to be played by more than 4 or 5 people at a time, usually in a consort of different voicings, and was primarily a solo instrument in the Middle Ages and Renaissance). The bore of a recorder is conical, giving it a very bright, focused, overtone-rich tone quality. This is why adults like it - if they are healthy adults, whose hearing has developed as it should and when it should, they should prefer this tone color. However, this is not the way the younger child hears (which is peripherally), and the overtone-rich timbre can actually cause inner ear damage for younger ears, especially if there is a group of them playing at the same time and the overtones are slightly out of tune with each other. This was of great concern to a group of teachers and people working in European Camphill communities in the late 60s and early 70s, and they wanted to take this up as a serious study. In observing the handicapped villagers and children in their care, they began working with different tone colors of wind instruments (taking up Steiner's indications of bringing a little flute) and after much work, they concluded that the tone color most appropriate for younger ears (because they hear peripherally) needed to be specific to the needs of the children and to how they actually hear. It needed to be gentle and more connected to the life forces of the plant realm (wood) rather than to that of the more formed mineral realm (metal). As adults, we would even say this tone quality is 'breathy' or not as clear as, say, a recorder's timbre. This led to the development of the Choroi flutes, first starting as a therapeutic instrument, then one that would best suit the children pedagogically, based on the understanding of child development in the light of anthroposophy. The bore of a Choroi flute is completely cylindrical and gives this kind of unfocused, 'surrounding' tone - so nurturing for younger ears. All true flutes (transverse flutes, Native American flutes, etc.) have a cylindrical bore. Choroi created a whole progression of wooden flutes to be used sequentially for specific pedagogical reasons. The interval flutes progress to the pentatonic, the pentatonic to the C-flute and so on. The pentatonic flute is probably the most familiar and widely used in Waldorf schools; it not only uses the pentatonic scale, but the tone color is perfectly suited to the way a young child perceives music at this stage of development. The Choroi pentatonic flute is unique, as is the interval flute - there are no other flutes like them. There are pentatonic recorders, but these have the recorder's conical bore and therefore, the brighter and more focused tone quality. Most adults do not prefer the 'breathy' tone color of the Choroi flutes and this is perfectly appropriate! Many adults struggle with the fingering of the pentatonic flute because it is so different from any other instrument. For the children, they have nothing to compare it to in order to judge it to be difficult or easy. In regards to the fingering, Steiner is clear that one of the things we are to do as teachers is to bring awareness "right down into the fingertips". While this can present a challenge, it is certainly not insurmountable and it gives the children an opportunity to do just that - bring awareness right down into their fingertips. Often, teachers choose to bring the recorder as soon as possible because that is what they used when they were in school; it is familiar and it is just easier for them. But if music is about LISTENING, which is most certainly is, and if we are striving to bring the right thing at the right time (one of the hallmarks of Waldorf pedagogy), then we have the responsibility to hold paramount what best serves the children. For more on what Rudolf Steiner had to say about music, click here.
If the teacher doesn't like them, or has some antipathy toward them, the students will develop this same relationship. It is important to remember that it is not about us, but about the children, and sometimes, we have to do something or learn something very difficult for us, as adults, knowing that we are not bringing the music to other adults, but to children. This is an area that, time and time again, is the most misunderstood aspect of music education in the light of anthroposophy (this along with Mood of the Fifth!). When changing to a C-instrument, we then progress to the Choroi C-flute in grade 3. The same quality of sound, same tension-free embouchure, and the fingering is absolutely and kinesthetically sequential and logical. There are no forked fingerings or skipped fingers. Then, around the 12-year change, we move to the alto recorder in grade 6, which is when the recorder actually came into being as relates to the main-lesson curriculum. It is a new instrument, new tuning (in F) with new fingering and everyone learns it quickly. The alto is also where their voice range is at this time and does not have the same harsh effect of an entire class playing soprano recorders! Again, I've never had a 6th grade that didn't have the alto 'down' by Christmas! In the Association for Waldorf Music Education, we have been working with this deeply, especially in the past few years, as more and more people simply do not understand what is behind the Choroi flutes and how they were developed to meet the children where they are developmentally. And if music is about listening, which is most absolutely is, then we have to consider how the child hears and what best serves this.
Sometimes these things require us to relinquish our own sympathies and antipathies and live into why we do what we do for the children pedagogically.
The Choroi instruments are made by hand at a Camphill community and do cost more. Just like quality beeswax crayons, good paints and brushes, silk versus synthetic and wood over plastic. It is a challenge....