Recorder book teaches with Jewish music, not ‘Jingle Bells’

If you go to Amazon.com and type in “recorder music book,” your query will turn up pages and pages of books on how to teach the recorder.

Although there is no dearth of recorder-method books, two Jewish music educators are betting that their self-published recorder book will stand out from the rest.

“Recorders Play Jewish Music,” by Marty Fox, teaches children how to play the recorder. It’s published by RUACH, a Milwaukee organization that promotes the arts, rooted in Jewish values.

“There are many recorder-method books, and almost all of them teach ‘Hot Cross Buns’ or ‘Jingle Bells,’” said Marty Fox, who has taught music for the last 22 years. “I wanted there to be a book that had all Jewish music.”

The result is “Recorders Play Jewish Music,” which Fox authored. What’s more, the book does more than just teach children how to play the recorder.

“In addition to Jewish songs, there are anecdotes and quotations from Jewish scholars, rabbis and gaonim about the importance of music in Judaism.”

A long time in the making

Fox, who grew up in Vermont and now lives in Los Angeles, began thinking about creating a Jewish-oriented recorder-method book about 10 years ago.

The project finally got off the ground when she met Milwaukee-native Joshua Richman, founder and executive director of RUACH, an organization that seeks to enrich and educate people in the Greater-Milwaukee area through creative arts that are rooted in Jewish values.

“Marty’s son attended the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study,” said Richman. “He’d spend Shabbos on the west side and I’d drive him back. Eventually he introduced me to his mom, who has a background in the arts, and we hit it off.”

After obtaining grant money, work on the book began in earnest. It officially launched last February.

Lack of music education

Although Judaism has a rich musical tradition, Fox said many children who attend Jewish schools don’t receive a music education.

“Jewish schools have to do a dual curriculum — secular studies and religious studies,” she said. “There isn’t much time or funds left over to teach music.”

Fox hopes her book will help change that, and one reason is because of the nature of the recorder.

“It’s an inexpensive instrument and it’s very portable,” she said. “You can stick it in your backpack and take it with you, sort of like the idea of the shepherd and his flute.”

Already a hit

Marty Fox

The book is already being used for teaching at three schools in the Milwaukee area — Bader Hillel, Yeshiva Elementary School, and ALBA School, the latter of which is a bilingual Spanish-English elementary school.

Once Fox and Richman get sponsors and a publisher, they plan to market the book to Jewish schools across the country, as well as non-Jewish schools.

“ALBA was interested in the book as a cultural exchange,” said Fox. “When I went there to introduce the book and give some teacher workshops, they asked me questions about Judaism. Even some Christian schools want a Jewish tune around Chanukah.”