Testimonials about the Highland Park Recorder Society


The Audience Sings Our Praise and we hope you will, too!


In an era when so much music is ephemeral, it’s refreshing that the Highland Park Recorder Society and its performing associates – Zorzal, Musica Dolce, the Highland Park Recorder Ensemble, soloist John Burkhalter, and most recently, Collegium Musicum – continue to reward audiences with music that has staying power and deep roots in the Old and New Worlds.

That’s why people say…

  • Really lively music, very well performed.
  • Beautiful voices and instruments.
  • Superb program … mix of pieces, quality of program notes, the idea of cultures and traditions influencing each other.
  • An introduction to music I had not really known.
  • I liked the variety of music and integration of cultures.

“This group is one of a kind. What they do shows great passion. Their history and repertoire are top notch.” – Middlesex County Neighborhood Arts Consortium

“Takes its music very seriously, and the repertoire is rich and varied.… This group is to be commended for stretching themselves artistically — they make recorder music rich and exciting.” – Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission

“All of the performers are very talented and accomplished. It was a pleasure to listen to the beautiful music.”

The program receiving the above comments was made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/ Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment of the Arts, through a grant provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission/Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Comment from a person who wrote from the dual perspective of performer and audience member. The note is from Sonya Headlam, soprano singer, born of Jamaican parentage, who had performed around the world, and was completing her Doctorate in Musical Arts, in opera, at Mason Gross School of the Arts, at Rutgers University. March 19, 2017, she wrote:

Dear Mrs. Messer,

Thank you so much for the opportunity to perform with the Highland Park Recorder Society. You’ve introduced me to music previously unknown to me, and I must say, I feel such an affinity to the musical language of the Sephardic music, I am looking forward to learning more and including Sephardic music in upcoming recital programs. The program you put together was a splendid mosaic of varied repertoire. And it was such a pleasure to hear the music played with sincerity of heart and respectful devotion. It was truly an honor to stand with you and the other musicians in sharing this music. As an audience member myself, it was especially thrilling to sit and enjoy.

When I reflect on what you have created in the HP Recorder Society and the 30 years of hard work and effort, I am in awe of you and all you’ve accomplished. It’s truly inspiring, and I thank you for all the work you have put into creating meaningful musical experiences for performers and audience members alike in our community and beyond.


Tributes of appreciation for the May 10, 2020 Performance, Music of Telemann

Thank you, that was a wonderful, heartwarming and beautiful performance. I’m so glad we were able to watch this time, and look forward to next time. It was also interesting to learn about Telemann’s background.

I admire your perseverance, performing during the lockdown, without the stimulation of a live audience - it was amazing.

Congratulations, and thank you again. Hana

Congratulations Donna.  It was lovely, excellent and very professional - including your individual performance.  It looks like a lot of work!

I also enjoyed the remarkable biography of Telemann, which you delivered very clearly. The church background was also very positive. Derek (Florida)

Dear Donna,

I thought you played very, very well, with a beautiful singing tone! The first Telemann sonata really rocked!

Your duets with Amy were beautifully played! Janet (Highland Park, NJ)

Great concert! Elana M. (Melrose, MA)

Donna, I tuned in to your concert…It was great as always. It made me so nostalgic how I have enjoyed your concerts thru the years..   It was so great how you had everyone positioned and the lovely sound quality…all the details that went into getting it  to your satisfaction in this media and the effort you went to. Diane D.

Before I head for bed, I just wanted to let you know that I listened to and watched a good portion of the performance this afternoon and want to congratulate you on such a wonderful concert. The music was so beautiful and the musicians all so talented. Thank you. Chris J. (Highland Park, NJ)

From Gaya and Lewis, by Telephone

The concert was very beautiful, and so professionally played! We enjoyed it so much. We listened to the whole concert. We were amazed to learn about Telemann’s early life. We saw parallels between then and now, with parents wanting to steer their children into a lucrative profession, rather that go into music. We recognized it must have been a lot of work to make such a successful concert. Gaya and Lewis (Bronx, NY)

I enjoyed very much the beautiful concert on Sunday evening and was happy to see you performing so wonderfully. You were playing all the time, and also had to present all the parts of Teleman’s lovely music….  Mirjam F., in Jerusalem

I have watched a number of Facebook streamed performances where the sound and video were of inferior quality. This was a real standout. As a listener you could really enjoy the music. Thanks. 

So many of my local musician friends are really struggling. I have missed so much music that I was looking forward to performing. For me, it was missing the joy of rehearsing and playing with the bands. For the others it was the loss of vital income. Several have performed on line but it’s not the same and I’m not sure what they took in. Too often, the sound quality is poor. The artists are in a very tough place. I look forward to hearing more. Charlie M. (NJ)

In 2017, to foster communication with the audience, and increase audience participation, we provided a bulletin board with questions about the concert and post-it-notes and an assortment of writing implements with which to write the answers, and encouraged the audience to use them to write comments on the concert during intermission and after the concert. Here follows questions and some of the responses:

What I Really Liked

  • Everything, exquisite music, intelligently selected and beautifully played
    John P.
  • Beautiful, thoughtful, intriguing, and relaxing in winter. Thank you.
  • I especially enjoyed La Primavera, due to its upbeat tempo. This piece truly sounded like spring.
  • Minju Lee’s harpsichord performance masterfully transported me to the past. A brilliant talent.
    Sally B. C.
  • I can honestly not decide which piece I liked the most. I have very little musical knowledge. I am honored to be part of such a rich tradition.
    Tom N.
  • I liked the diversity of the program – musical instruments, eras and players.
    Judith S.

Something New I Learned

  • That there are so many different sizes of recorders with different pitches
    Stanley H.
  • Was so much more than recorders!! Was an early music festival!
    Stanley H.

My Favorite Ensemble
(Musica Dolce, Recorders, etc.)

  • We enjoyed Bergamasca (1583-1643) performed by the Highland Park Recorder Society as it was upbeat tempo and the recorders complemented each other well.
  • We also enjoyed the Sephardic Chanson II of the six Chansons Populaires arranged by Joaquin Nin-Culmell (1908-2004) as the singer Sonya Headlam transmitted great feeling of the music and words.

What I thought about the Highland Concerto (World Premiere Piece)

  • What a treat to have a world premiere
  • “Highland Concerto.” Beautiful sound, moving experience. I especially liked the sound of the Canon with its introduction of each instrument in a solo part, building to a brilliant conversation among them all.
  • Canon - Clever introduction of solo instruments with their own motifs – starting with recorders and concluding with a vibrant harpsichord passage
  • Minju Lee’s harpsichord solo – Lamento in C Major, took me back in time as only the harpsichord can; watching Mr. Franek’s fingers duplicate her fingerings on his knee, I caught a glimpse of how a composer, John Franek himself a harpsichordist listens actively to another performer, in La Marche des Scythes, by J.N.P.Royer (c.1705-1755)

Circle your rating of tonight’s concert, “Hits and Highlights from 7 centuries”
Excellent 8/8. Of the 8 people who responded to this, all 8 rated it Excellent.

What did you like the most?

  1. Too many pieces to list and soprano singer
    Sally B. C.
  2. All
    Tom N.
  3. Singer
  4. The nurturing of young talent and the excellence of group performance
  5. The sound of the recorders in that nice space
    Susan E., Highland Park, NJ
    Deborah C., Highland Park, NJ
  6. Highland Concerto
    Cary C., Highland Park, NJ

Please add comments I very much enjoyed the concert. All the performers were very accomplished. Ensembles were good. Music was varied and lovely. The Highland Concerto quite a baroque accomplishment. Many thanks to all!
Susan E.

In 2018, for the Back to Bach concert, to foster communication with the audience, and increase audience participation, we provided an Audience Survey form with questions and invitations to comment.

What did you like most?
Players’ passion toward music.
Mariko B.

The recorder pieces.
Carmelo C. (New Brunswick)

The repertoire and period instrumentation. You don’t get to hear period instruments played at this high level often, so this was a treat!
Jessie M. (New Brunswick, NJ)

World Premiere of the harpsichord concerto!! My only suggestion is to please have more concerts!!!
MaryAlice C. (Somerset, NJ)

Excellent musicianship; Informative program.
Susan K.

World Premiere Harpsichord Concerto in the Old Style. Also violas da gamba. Recorders – terrific. Wonderful program.
Barbara R. (E. Brunswick, NJ)

The Franek concerto, Handel, Bach’s Chorale. The program was terrific.

Harpsichord Concerto by John Franek – excellent!!

Harpsichord Concerto, recorders!
Fantasia on a shape-note hymn. Thank you very much for great music!

The variety of solos and varied ensembles, Franek concerto. It was great that you also raised funds for Puerto Rico hurricane relief.

The one that my grandma was in.
Dalia M. (Highland Park, NJ)

The uplifting music.

Testimonials from Teachers of Early Childhood Pre-K Classes

In addition to presenting concerts, on behalf of the Highland Park Recorder Society Donna Messer has been doing interactive, developmentally appropriate outreach music presentations for young children using recorders in the City of Elizabeth, NJ, reaching hundreds of children and their teachers each year, from 2017-2019. To see a description of the program and related photos, read this article on the Elizabeth Board of Education website.

In the Week of the Young Child, April 16-20, 2018, the program reached 87 adults - teachers and staff, and 455 Pre-K students, of whom 45 were children with special needs. Total audience reached: 542. All the teachers were asked to fill out their evaluations of the programs.

Below are their comments and responses to “Which part of the program did the students like best?”

Letter from the Director of a school for Pre-K students in Elizabeth, NJ:

Just wanted to thank you for the lively presentation that you provided for our PROCEED Early Childhood Developmental Center I kids. It was not only lively but very instructional, too… making them clap, stomp their feet, march to the beat. In one word, it was just amazing for all of my students, teachers and staff members. We really appreciate your care and commitment in truly making the last day of the Week of the Young Child very memorable for us.”

(Proceed I)

“Which part of the Program did the students like best?” Teachers’ Comments:

“Students engage more when they get to dance and move around especially to nursery rhymes.”
(Teacher in School. No. 7)

“Students were exposed to instruments they had never seen before.”
(School No. 7)

“Students like showing high and low notes by using their bodies.”
(School No. 7)

“Also the part when we all danced together cause we got to interact with their friends and teachers.”

“I loved when the children were encouraged to march and dance to the music.”
(Teacher in School No. 23)

“I liked the vocabulary you introduced.”
(School. No. 23)

“Music was nice / beautiful but difficult to prepare the kids due to their transitional / behavior difficulties.” I enjoyed the presentation of the music and the songs played.
(Speech therapist and teacher for a class of Pre-K autistic students.) (School No. 23)

“Music with Full Body Movement is always best for this age group. They really enjoyed it.”
(Teachers, School 28)

“The students enjoyed Mrs. Messer’s presentation so much! They loved hearing the recorders, keeping the beat, marching and dancing. It would be wonderful if my students got music weekly, instead of 2 days of art and one of gym.”
(School No. 28)

Re: “Which part did the students like best?” “Marching out of the classroom while singing.”
(Family worker, Proceed I)

“Cantar y caminar al mismo tiempo.”
(Teacher, Proceed I)

Re: What did you like best?
“Donna es una persona muy entusiasta y tiene un buen sentido del humor y a los ninos les encanta.”
(Teacher, Proceed I.)

Re: Suggestions for improvement: “Tener mas amenudo actividades comoestas en las escuelas.” (Hold more activities like this in school.)
(Teacher, Proceed I)

What You Liked best:

“Interaction with the presenter.”
(Teacher, Elizabeth Head Start Leaguers)

“All of it.”
(Teacher, Head Start Leaguers)

“Flute. Showing high, low pitch with hands.”

“Whole presentation. Very interactive.”

“Sounds up/down” (Showing with their hands and bodies when they hear sounds going up and down.)

What the Class Liked Best:

“Listening and dancing to different genres of music.” “The students enjoyed doing different movements according to the music being played.” “Also they loved naming different musical instruments that they heard.”

“Students liked best listening to different types of recorders, (predicting)” (i.e., predicting whether the next larger or smaller instrument would sound higher or lower)

Comments from Teachers in EPORT, Elizabeth Presbyterian Early Childhood Center:

“Es una clase bilingue: Ingles y espanol, so los ninos les gusta la musica que sea con movimeientos.” (It’s a bilingual class, English and Spanish. So kids love music with movement.)

What part did students like best? “Dance with the instrument” (i.e., dance to instrumental music.) What did you like best? “Finger play.” Suggestions? “More dance.”

What did the students like best? “Dancing to music.” What did you like best? “Kids music playing” Suggestions: “Create more active participation for students to understand what is being taught to them.”
(Ms. Alexandra, Ms. Anelie)

Comments from Teachers in Wonder World Early Childhood Center, Union, NJ:

Best: I liked the presentation of flutes. Suggestions: “A little fast-paced.”
(Ms. Heather, Ms. Ashley)

Suggestions: “None. Donna always does a good job of active/passive activities to keep the children’s interest. I liked the interaction with the children with the tempo, high/low sounds and asking the children to predict what the sounds would be from each instrument.

They also got to touch one of the instruments. Donna had visuals of birds and played music to represent each type of bird.” (She is referring to Donna’s playing of music from The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, “Tune for a Canary,” “Tune for a Woodlark,” and “Tune for a Nightingale.” Donna showed pictures of a canary, woodlark and nightingales.) (Ms. Donna P., Ms. Legra).

Donna explained to the children and their teachers that in the eighteenth century some people kept caged songbirds as a hobby and “trained” them to sing by playing special songs for them on their recorders. Donna played those songs and showed the children and their teachers these images of the song birds.

bird1 bird2 bird3 bird4

Re: What did your students like best? “Responding to Twinkle’s beat, Melody and Marching to the Music.”

Suggestions for improvement: “None. This was a wonderful presentation for children. They stayed focused and enjoyed themselves while learning. They learned high low (sounds), big small, alto soprano. Predicting which instrument would be (sound) lower or higher.”
(Ms. Mary H., Ms. Millie R.)

Suggestions: “None needed. The kids especially liked identifying the notes with their hands.”
(Ms. Barbara K., Ms. Cindy C.)

Outreach series of 18 Events

For Ethnically Diverse Pre-K students and teachers in Elizabeth NJ, and Union, NJ During Week of the Young Child, April 16-20, 2018 on behalf of the Highland Park Recorder Society

HPRS Audience Statistics in 2017-2018

Outreach performances for Pre-K in Elizabeth , NJ

Ethnic group Adults/Teachers staff Total Adults Persons under 18, under 6 Total Audience NJ Residents? With Disabilities?
African American 15 15 145 210 210 15
Asian, Pacific Islander 2 5 6 6 6 0
Native American 1 1 1 1 1 0
Latino/Hispanic 45 45 297 434 434 30
Caucasian 21 21 6 6 6 0
Total of All Audiences 84 87 455 students 542 542 45 children with IEPs*

How this 2018 data were derived: Of 657 people reached with music presentations by Donna Messer, 66% were Hispanic, 32% Afro-American, 2% other. For specific data, see “Week of the Young Child – HPRS Musical Outreach by Donna Messer to Ethnically Diverse Pre-K Classes – April 16-20, 2018 – Elizabeth, NJ” This data comes from Ethnic Diversity forms filled out by the teachers on their classes.

*IEP: Individualized Educational Plan for children with special needs.

Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Through a Grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund.