Are you a flutist or a flautist? This has to be the question I am asked most when I meet someone and I tell them that I play flute. It’s funny how much of a controversy the simple issue of what someone who plays flute should be called.
Granted, ‘flautist’ may sound more sophisticated than ‘flutist’, and maybe that’s the effect people are going for when they use it. I’ve noticed that the people who say “flautist” are most often non-musicians.
When I was in high school, I thought being called a flautist was really cool. At a summer orchestral camp I attended, the flute section even had Tshirts made up that said “If you’ve got it, flaut it.” I treasured that shirt!
Later, one of my teachers insisted on flutist. Her reasoning was, “I speak English and I live in the 20th century.” (Guess I’m dating myself here!) And like many students who idolize their teachers, I decided that I also wanted to be called a ‘flutist,’ quoting her reasoning to anyone who dared refer to me as a ‘flautist.’
Nancy Toff’s discussion of the terms in her book, “The Flute Book,” finally cleared this issue up for me. It turns out that the term “flutist” predates “flautist” in the English language by over 200 years! Flautist is the term for flute player in Italian and Spanish. Perhaps it was popularized during the 18th century, when Italian was the language used most often for musical terms.
Nowadays, I’m a little more tolerant than I used to be when someone refers to me as a flautist. If they ask which I prefer, I explain and don’t make a big deal of it. If someone cares enough to show interest, I’m thrilled!