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!


Practicing Piccolo

Argh! I have to play piccolo on the next concert and it has been so long since I’ve put any time in on the lovely little petite member of the flute family. When I was very young, I thought playing picc was the greatest thing on earth! When I first was asked what instrument I wanted to play, I said piccolo, because it played the highest notes in the band. Of course, no one was crazy enough to let me do that, so I had to start with flute, then work my way up to piccolo. Now I consider it to be a nearly impossible task, largely because I don’t own a good instrument. (Yes, it does make a difference with piccolos)

Luckily I was able to borrow a decent instrument, and I only have to play picc on one piece, the Tannhauser Overture, so it’s no so bad. I’m looking at the whole situation as an opportunity to brush up on some skills and to try to make a good impression. Auditions for fall are coming up and I want to do well, it can’t hurt to show off a little! I started practicing by doing some tone work so I could learn the instrument’s tendencies and even out the intonation. Once I had a feel for this, I jumped into the music. I quickly noticed that I was trying to radically follow the direction of the notes with the air stream, a super big no-no on piccolo, where the strike zone is much smaller than on the flute. Minimizing this has been my biggest challenge. Practice is going pretty well except for a high G# that just won’t cooperate. I may have to just cross my toes and blow for that one.

Want to listen to Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture? I’ve posted a recording conducted by the great Herbert von Karajan. Enjoy!

Getting paid to play!

Wow! Got my first check from performing with the Sun Shore Symphony Orchestra. It’s not a big check, but it is nice to get paid to play for a change. There are lots of volunteer groups around here, which makes it harder for the people who want and need to get paid for playing. I came in as a summer sub and will have to audition for the regular season, (errrr . . . audition!) I think I have a good chance, though and if I play well on the last summer concert (errrr . . . piccolo!) that will help, too. I guess doing the audition is how I will “pay to play!”

It has been a long while since my last post, but my second job has finally gone away and maybe I can return to writing more regularly. I also need the time to practice for the audition and to practice conducting. Coaching an ensemble is nothing compared to conducting one and flute choir season is fast approaching! I’m also thinking about writing a practice book about how to use a tuner and how to improve intonation, first a general guide, then one specifically for flutists. Comments are welcome!

Welcome to Practicing Flutist!

Hello!  If you have visited the previous incarnation of this site, you may notice that I am changing the format.  This will take a little time, but I hope that once it is done, I will be able to offer regularly updated current issues content as well as useful information about practicing the flute in a format that is hopefully both fun and easy to use.

In the works are weekly tips for practicing, articles on specific flute practice issues like intonation and technique,  announcements and discussions of fun, new flute stuff like recordings, videos, books, etc., all things flute!  Much like it was before, but in a more user-friendly (and author-friendly!) format.

So here are links to the latest “Flute Treat”, the release of flutist extraordinaire Greg Patillo and Project Trio’s newest EP, available for download.  This group really tears it up!