Instruments: Pipe with a Pedigree

This summer, in such diverse settings as a Universalist church on Cape Cod, a 16th century hacienda near Taxco, Mexico, and a leafy glade on the shores of California's Lake Arrowhead, hundreds of amateur U.S. musicians are taking part in a series of workshops. Their subject: advanced noodling. Their instrument: the recorder, a kind of glorified penny whistle with a pedigree.

Among today's grand array of orchestral instruments, the humble recorder — usually a foot-long wooden pipe with seven holes for the fingers and one for the thumb — looks like a pipsqueak. Yet its sweet warblings, wistful twitters and...

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