Jonny McCambridge: The recorder and funk beatbox orchestra

I have no gift for music.

The soothing sound of the recorder
The soothing sound of the recorder

I am, of course, a fan of many forms of music, but I’ve often been advised that I should restrict myself to listening rather than participating.

Within my own head, I am a great singer, with a deep and booming tenor voice not unlike a young Pavarotti.

However, those few unfortunates who have had the opportunity of hearing me sing have assured me it is not so. My voice is flat and hopelessly out of tune, I am told.

If I had less self-respect, I could be one of those contestants who briefly find infamy on ‘The X Factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ because they are so delusional about their own vocal abilities.

I have casually tried to learn various musical instruments over the years without success. A few years back my wife bought me a ukulele on the premise that it might be easy to master; but it proved beyond me.

When I was at school our music teacher tried to put together an ensemble within our class. Some kids were given the trombone, guitar or violin to work with. I was always handed the triangle.

There is certainly an argument that my deficiencies are primarily caused by a lack of application; the theory being that if I practised harder, I would improve.

But I think this is trumped by the question of aptitude. I love to play snooker. I have played it for most of my life. I am still terrible at it. Music, I fear, would be the same.

Some people are simply born to do certain things better than others. Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of eight. When I was several years older, I was still unable to master the tambourine.

My son has never shown much interest in music up to now. A few times we have gently suggested he might want to learn an instrument, but he never displayed any enthusiasm. I guess I imagined he had the same limitations as his daddy.

One of the advantages of this indifference is that I have previously been able to play the music I like in front of him in the car without any interference. When he was little, I could put on a Bach concerto or a Verdi aria safe in the knowledge he would nod along happily.

But things have started to change. Recently, when I turned on the radio, he screwed up his face and demanded I lower the volume.

‘Your music is terrible daddy.’

Stung, I decided to retort.

‘Well, what sort of music do you like then?’

‘I like funk.’

‘Funk! What the heck is funk?’

‘Funk is funk daddy, duh!’

I found this to be an unsatisfactory definition but decided to let it go.

A few days later he delivered another revelation when I picked him up from school.

‘I’m a beatboxer now daddy.’

‘Beatbox! What the heck is that?’

‘Beatbox is beatbox daddy, duh!’

I quickly Googled it. It seems that beatboxing is the art of using one’s own voice to imitate the sound of a drum machine. I was unsure why this was a thing. In fact, it seemed that the very invention of the drum machine should have rendered the practice redundant.

When we got home, he decided to show me. He started to make a sound.

‘Che, che, che, che, che, de, de de, de, tuh, tuh, tuh, tuh…’

I watched transfixed. In truth, if I had not known what he was doing I may have believed that he was having a seizure. However, I like to be supportive, so I applauded the effort.

And then, naturally, I decided to have a go.

‘Che, che, che, che, che, de, de de, de, tuh, tuh, tuh, tuh…’

However, I soon became frustrated by the limitations of the medium. It seemed that there was so much more a true maestro could achieve. I decided to go freeform.

‘Tuh, tuh, tuh, tuh, waca, waca, waca, oink, oink, oink, cluck, cluck, cluck, ompa, ompa, ompa.’

I found it all to be a most pleasing diversion. So impressed was I by my own rhythmic inventions that I decided nothing would do other than I improvise a dance. This involved me moving around the living room while flapping my arms like a chicken and moving my capacious backside in time to the beat.

My son watched the performance. He seemed haunted.

‘Daddy, don’t ever do that again.’

Music seemed to have become the theme of the week, because a few days later another new sound was introduced into our household. My son came home from school with his first recorder.

He is infested with enthusiasm for the instrument. I know how these fads go, he will remain obsessed with it for days before the novelty fades.

As any long-suffering parent is aware, the sound of a recorder is not a thing of beauty. The sound of a recorder in the hands of a child who knows only one note and insists on playing it at ever greater volume for several consecutive hours is even less beautiful. There is no accurate way to replicate the sound of a recorder with words, so I hope this suffices.

‘Parp, parp, parp, parp, parp, parp. PARP! PARP! PARP!’

‘What do you think daddy? Did I do well?’

‘Oh yes son, that was ... it was really … really something.’

‘Do you want to hear it again?’

‘Well … you know ... let’s see now …’

‘Parp, parp, parp, parp, parp, parp. PARP! PARP! PARP!’

We reach the weekend at the end of a series of tiring days at work. My wife and I are desperate for a lie-in. My son has other ideas.

He enters the room and climbs onto the bed before the birds have yet found their voice.

‘Daddy, I’ve been practising, do you want to hear?’

‘Uh … what ... what time is ...’

‘Parp, parp, parp, parp, parp, parp. PARP! PARP! PARP!’

‘Bloody hell.’

Soon I am fully awake in the bed. Indeed, sleep has never seemed so far away. I look at the expectant face of my son, recognising his need for encouragement and succour. He may never be a musician, but that’s not really the point.

‘Go on then buddy, give us another blast of it.’

He starts to blow into the recorder. I decide there is something missing, an accompaniment that would deepen and enrich the orchestral experience. It is time for me to beatbox.

‘Parp, parp, parp, parp, parp, parp. PARP! PARP! PARP!’

‘Tuh, tuh, tuh, tuh, waca, waca, waca, oink, oink, oink, cluck, cluck, cluck, ompa, ompa, ompa.’

Soon, I am standing and doing my chicken dance as he plays, and I beatbox.

It is my son who cracks first, collapsing onto the bed overcome by fits of giggles. Mummy and I quickly follow.

The truth is that we may be responsible for the single worst musical creation in the history of time.

But, as we lie there, with tears of mirth streaming down our faces, I also know that it is the best.