When I mentioned the recorder to a Forest Park man, his immediate response was, “Hot Cross Buns.” Such is the prevailing view of the humble instrument that is introduced to District 91 students in third grade. Many underestimate this medieval forerunner of the flute. Playing the recorder, though, changed the life of Forest Park street musician Laura Osterlund.
Laura first fell in love with medieval music at the tender age of 10. She was influenced by her recorder-playing father and his collection of medieval CDs. While she was a student at Oak Park and River Forest High School, Laura was playing recorder at a music festival in Whitewater, Wis. They must have liked what they heard because an anonymous donor offered to pay for Laura’s music lessons and fund her four years at McGill University in Montreal.
She has never met her benefactors and doesn’t know their names. She communicated with them through her music teacher. They did have a few conditions. She had to send them monthly reports, maintain a certain GPA and graduate on time. Laura met all these requirements and graduated from McGill in 2012, with a double-major, Early Music Performance and Music History.
She concentrated on recorder in college and played in an Early Music ensemble.
The next step in her academic career will be attending graduate school in Europe – the Mecca of medieval music. Her dream job would be professor of musicology. In the meantime, she’s been supporting herself as a street musician.
She’s been busking in various cities, New York, Boston and Toledo. She cleared a cool $200 in a weekend in Montreal. She also obtained her street musician license in Chicago. Some days are more lucrative than others but she’s never averaged less than $10 per hour.
She’s also played on the streets of Oak Park and Forest Park. That’s where I caught up with her. She was playing a medieval cello, known as a vielle near the fountain on Madison Street. Having played strings in high school, it took her only one lesson to learn it. The music she played had a haunting primordial quality.
Laura, who is well past the stage-fright phase, described busking as incredibly liberating – the opposite of a concert hall performance. It gives her a taste of real life and a viable way to get lunch. She believes street musicians embody the gumption and entrepreneurial spirit of Americans. It’s also given her the chance to meet several other professional buskers, one of whom plays concertos on his trumpet. The only limit to Laura’s busking career is she’ll have to go on hiatus when the snow flies.
So I say to the man who scoffed at the lowly recorder: This instrument can lead to an education and a career. But if he comes across Laura on the street, I’ll bet she can play a mean “Hot Cross Buns.”