How many professional flute players can you name?
That question was asked of me and a fellow flutist recently. It was after a band rehearsal and a few of us had headed over to the local bar and grill for a drink and some socializing. To our surprise, we found that we could only come up with a handful of names. Why is that? Certainly the world is full of talented professionals. I can name dozens of singers and guitarists and even pianists, so why so few flutists?
Well, some of the reasons are obvious. Popular music dominates our culture, yet there is little room in pop music for the flute. There are of course Ian Anderson and Herbie Mann, but not everyone would be able to identify them as flutists, and I’m dating myself by even mentioning their names. Yet we all know who Billy Joel, Eddie Van Halen and Lady GaGa are. Outstanding musicians, yes, but so is Paula Robison. My guess is that your next door neighbor has no idea who she is.
Perhaps the flute is too closely tied to classical music to have that level of popularity and name recognition with the general population, but you’d think that a couple of flute players could come up with a few names beyond Galway, Rampal and Pahud. The truth is, very few flutists can rise to the professional level and actually make a living at it. Those that are lucky enough to succeed economically in music are sitting in our great orchestras or teaching at universities or in private studios. You might recognize some of them or find their recordings on Amazon.com, but they’re not exactly big names.
Of course there are exceptions. Jean-Pierre Rampal was the first flutist to become a household name, at least within flute playing households. He was the driving force in reviving the flute as a solo instrument and unearthing the wonderful repertoire that had fallen into obscurity during the Romantic period. Then Sir James Galway came along a couple of decades later and dominated the flute scene for half a century. In recent years Emmanuel Pahud has stepped into the spotlight promising to be a major force in the flute world.
Perhaps the flute loving community can only support one or two superstars at a time. That’s okay with me. I’ve gotten great joy out of listening to their recordings and, in the case of Sir James, seeing him perform live. But there are many other wonderful flute players out there. I encourage you to get to know a few of them. The next time someone asks you how many flute players you can name, make it a long list.
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