Flutist or Flautist? Which is It?

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!


Leaning In for Musicians

I have to admit, I have been ensnared by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In,’ and the movement inspired by it. But while it is about women and how they are being held back and are holding themselves back, I found a lot of similarities to my own experiences, not only as female, but as a musician.

There was a long period of my life when telling new acquaintances that I had majored in music in college, the doors of communication slammed shut faster than you can say “Gemeinhardt.” Letting slip that I had a master’s degree only deepened the divide. I could see that the other people were wondering how they could relate to me, that I must be some exotic creature who could only converse about esoteric, highly cultured topics. Never mind that we met while I was sweating it out on the Stairmaster next to them, or playing darts at the neighborhood dive bar. I had to either gloss over or avoid these details when meeting new people if I had any hope of having a second conversation, or getting a date! I wanted to be liked, or at least not treated like a leper, so I denied one of the most important parts of myself.

As an over-educated, underemployed musician, this type of information was also a detriment in job-seeking. Instead of being able to advocate for my strengths and skills (many of them honed by my musical study,) again I had to downplay that I had been a music major. “Yes, my training as a musician and academician will not hamper my ability to run a photocopier.” When it came to making a living, I became someone who believed that I was only able to do what other people allowed me to be, a completely self-defeating behavior, both as a musician, a woman, and a human.

I am trying to break out of this. Really I am! I’ve written a music practice book that I’ve sold directly as a pdf and as an ebook. I have plans for at least two more. I’m thinking about putting myself out where I will be seen, offering lessons on Skype and presenting at music events. My skills and knowledge have value, don’t they? Every step has been exciting, excruciating, euphoria-inducing, and frustrating. I’m a long way from my goals and time keeps ticking.

The book has spurred me to think bigger and to think about what tables I would want to sit at. We meed more musicians sitting at local government tables, education tables, arts committee tables. I know that where I live, the city’s arts committee doesn’t even include music or any type of performing arts, it is only geared toward visual arts. (My boss sits at this table.) How do I get to this table or one like it?

There are lots of reasons I am not where I want to be in life. Not all of them have to be with being a woman or being a musician. I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I had taken a different academic and career path. But it always comes down to the fact that nothing interests me or engages me as much as the study and performance of music, and I have a lot of interests! I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t see how other people do without it or something similar. So the current overall challenge is (still) to find my place at the big musical table. Suggestions welcome!

Looking for More Music Blogs

I’m always interested in what other musicians are doing to increase and improve their music-related activities. I’ve found some terrific sites and blogs and have added some new ones to my blogroll am looking for more! If you’ve got a blog or site and think you’d like to be added to the list, please contact me through the contact form.

Phoning it in: Practice apps for Smart Phones

It’s amazing what smart phones can do! They not only relay phone calls and email, text messages and Facebook updates, they can also make practicing better and easier. I’ve had a metronome app for awhile (an Android app, nothing against iPhone, just my carrier doesn’t support them) and have enjoyed it immensely. I had been lusting for a Dr. Beat with all its cool features, but the free app I downloaded from the Google Play store gives me all the functionality I want. I can change the tempo 1 beat at a time, and have a different sound for the first beat of the measure. It can’t make different sounds for each of the beats in the measure, but I would use that so rarely, I’m not missing it. I’m sure that will available soon, anyway!

I’m also trying out an app that will play back pieces at different tempos while keeping the pitch the same. This is really helping me with the current orchestra program, since I’m playing mostly piccolo and the pieces are requiring lots of practice at slow tempos and working them up. Too bad I can’t use both programs at the same time! (I think SmartMusic might have this capability, but it’s not available on phones, yet!) With rehearsals only once a week, it is hard for me to get a good sense of how my part fits in. My score study time has to be spent on the flute choir rep that I conduct, so being able to hear how my part fits in really helps.

I’ve even got an ear training app that tests my ability to hear and identify intervals and tonalities. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I had had these tools when I was a student! As a musician with a day job, practice time has to be used as efficiently as possible, there is never enough time, but tools like these really help. Now if I only had an app that made my brain work faster I would be in really great shape!

Inspiring greatness

I was sitting in orchestra rehearsal last week, looking around at all the different people, and thinking about what makes a great musician ‘great.’ Everyone in the orchestra tries hard to play well, to get the notes and entrances right, to satisfy the wishes and directions of the conductor, but probably no one in the group could really be considered to be ‘great.’ After all, we’re not playing at Carnegie Hall anytime soon!

To me, what makes a musician ‘great’ is how they use their bodies, minds, skills, and personalities to present music to others. While a sense of an individual’s own personality may be evident in the performance, it is not a selfish or self-serving display. It is all about the music, not the performer. I believe that it is the task of all performers to find the great things in a piece of music and illuminate them for the listener. A great performance seems to spontaneously flow out a performer, rather than be a quasi-recitation of musical ideas. A great performer demonstrates that he or she understands how the music is constructed and has specific ideas about how to lead the listener on a kind of aural tour through the piece. All secrets are revealed one note at a time.

I have recently discovered flutist Jasmine Choi, whom I consider to be a great flutist. At first I thought that she is primarily an orchestral flutist, but actually she plays many different styles of music, all of them with the same verve and skill. The performances she has posted on YouTube show a performer who is fully engaged with the music and uses every ounce of energy and personality she has to present the music to her audience.

What I appreciate most is a lack of self-consciousness in her performance, nothing gets in the way of the music. This is a quality that I admire in many of the musicians that I consider to be ‘great.’ I find this inspiring and it reminds me of what I want to achieve in my own performances. This is one of my own great weaknesses, my difficulty to be relatively unself-conscious in my playing. It is what often keeps my playing from sounding like I enjoy what I am doing and want the audience to share my enjoyment. I get too wrapped up in trying to get everything ‘right’ and end up suppressing the joy of playing the music. We earn the right to that joy with diligent practice and study, but it is easy to forget that enjoyment of performance could be the goal. I had forgotten this over the past year, having become distracted with too much work and too little meaningful practice, but I’ve been re-inspired and am trying to get back on the ‘joy of music’ bandwagon.

So listen to those that inspire you, let them give you that extra boost you may be needing to help you find your own greatness. Then perhaps you can provide wonderfully inspiring performances for your audiences!