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Is your musical judgement influenced by how much you paid?

Flautist Niall O’Riordan asks several important questions in a new essay on musical value, written for the British Flute Society.

For instance: is your verdict on an instrument, or a performance, affected by how much you paid for it? Do you rate an orchestra by the stars in its ranks and the fees you command? How do you protect your musical integrity from the onslaught of hype that accompanies branded products and industry hype?

Niall prefers a nickel flute to silver. And you?

Read him here.


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  1. I play a wooden flute! very good article. thanks for sharing.

  2. Bob Summers says:

    The word flautist is incorrect and an affectation for non-German speakers.

    • That will no doubt affect my musical judgment.

    • It’s standard UK English usage. Check OED.

      • Bob Summers says:

        It is still an affectation for American speakers.

        Kincaidiana says:
        January 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm
        Incorrect, Mr. Summers.

        “Flautist” is an affectation for American speakers. It is the correct British term for someone who plays the flute. In the US “flutist” is correct.

        • Bob Summers says:

          My final word is that Doriot Anthony Dwyer for decades the principal “flutist” of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, always used flute and said that “flautist” is incorrect.

      • Bob Summers says:

        I did check my OED, both “flutist” and “flautist” are included. However, the definition of “flautist” is one who plays the “flute”. What does a “flautist” play? The pretension in using “flautist” in the United States is almost as bad as the name of a local classical music blog, “The Boston Musical Intelligencer”.

        • Tom Moore says:

          And what does a lutenist (the accepted form) play, Bob Summers?

          • A lutenist plays lute which is why “lute” remains the main part of the word “lutenist”. Adding a letter to the word’s root (for a smoother sounding result) makes much more sense than changing the very center of the root itself for no reason at all. Since “flaut(e)” does not exist in English and “flutist” sounds just fine, there is absolutely no logical justification for using a word that does not correspond to the name of the instrument – neither in spelling nor in pronunciation. The fact of its “acceptance” does not make it any more sensible.

          • Bob Summers says:

            I agree with MarK completely.

          • Kincaidiana says:

            I also agree with MarK.

    • Tom Moore says:

      Bob Summers is simply displaying his ignorance. English words for instruments come generally from Italian (violin) and French (bassoon). In the case of flute, flutist is from the French, and flautist from the Italian. Both are acceptable in normal usage.

    • Kincaidiana says:

      Incorrect, Mr. Summers.

      “Flautist” is an affectation for American speakers. It is the correct British term for someone who plays the flute. In the US “flutist” is correct. It’s like “colour” in the UK which is “color” in the US.

      It is definitely an affectation when an American tries to use it, because they pronounce it as “flauwtist”, “auw” as in “Auschwitz”. A British person prounounces it “Flohtist”. I would love to know how Americans came up with that pronunciation.

      This is a hot point of debate in the flute world. We flutists in the US do not wish to offend those well-intended folks who would like to sound cultured, but as the great flutist (or flautist – that’s pronounced “flohtist”, :BTW) Sir James Galway once replied to the “flutist” “flauwtist” controversy: “I do not play a ‘flauwt” I play a ‘flute’”!

      • Then by that rational Galway must prefer “flutist” as he certainly doesn’t play the “floht”.

        As an American I prefer “flutist”, much less pretentious. I believe it is the older of the English versions too. And by the way, doesn’t “flaut” come from the Italian word for flute?

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      New Grove uses “flautist”, even for James Galway (who hates the term).

      • Tom Moore says:

        Yet more ignorance. “flautist” is pronounced “ow” because the Italian flauto (plus the Spanish and Portuguese flauta) are pronounced that way. That”s “how Americans came up with that pronunciation”.

        • Kincaidiana says:

          Dear Tom,

          If the American pronounciation of the British term for a flute player (Mr. Bigio, below, is the authority here) is based on Spanish, Italian and Portuguese pronounciations, why did they keep the British spelling and drop the “a” at the end. Spanish for “flutist” for example, is “flautista”. Yes, it’s prononunced like “auschwitz” as the Americans pronounce it, but there’s an “a ” at the end.

          Any way you slice it, there is no sensible explanation for the American affectation of called a flute player a “flauwtist”!

  3. This psychological phenomenon is generally true for humans no matter the commodity- music, clothing, jewelry, food, etc, etc. That is at least when you pass a certain price threshold to weed out the truly cheap (like those $60 student flutes).

  4. I avoid the “ow-awe” pronunciation game altogether and prefer this term : FLUTER (rhymes with scooter).


  5. Kincaidiana says:

    Very cute, Mickey! But it doesn’t work too well if you’re over 13.

    I say that knowing that there’s a woman well over that age who happens to use it as her moniker professionally.
    It kinda wears away at your credibility. As does constantly trying to sell stuff under that name on FB.

    Yeah, I know. Meow.

    • I, too, am well past 13. I have no problem with the word as far as one’s credibility is concerned. One plays the flute well or not . . . no matter by which name s/he is called. Credibility, for me, lies with the performance – not with the names or brand of flute or wardrobe the artist uses.


  6. The common term in Britain before the middle of the 19th century was ‘flute-player’ or sometimes ‘flutist’. There was a Flutist’s Magazine in the 1820s. Charles Nicholson was appointed ‘Flutist to the King’ in 1836. Nineteenth-century tutors by Wragg, Nicholson, Drouet, Carte, Clinton and Radcliff all used ‘flute player’ (often with a hyphen), if indeed they used anything at all. ‘The student’ was a common usage in these works. The OED gives 1860 as the date for the use of ‘flautist’, but it was in occasional use before then. I always use the term ‘flute player’.

    Please forgive the shameless plug, but I deal with this subject in my book Readings in the History of the Flute.

  7. If I may diverge from the trivial flautist/flutist debate — which sadly completely misses the point of the featured article — I would like to say that Mr. O’Riordan article is both refreshing, courageous, and sorely needed in our so-called “cultured” society. Just as for many aspects of our social life, and especially so in our ueber-mediatized era, judgment is a faculty that has become dangerously eroded, and classical music is no exception. Voicing any opinion that might go against the grain has become somewhat of a taboo nowadays, and very few will indeed have the courage to say that x performance by x highly-rated artist was indeed nothing to write home about, that x contemporary piece by x highly-rated composer is simply rubbish, or that x Strad does not indeed sound better than a more modest instrument priced one twentieth of the Strad’s market price. Instead we have made standing ovations a daily ritual and are content to go along with what a sophisticated network of marketeers has forced upon us, often through the seductive power of sheer image (both literal and metaphorical), thus only encouraging us to bypass our own judgment. It goes without saying that there has always been a tremendous amount of pretentiousness and snobbery in the world of classical music, and that unfortunately the concert experience has become — or perhaps has somewhat always been — just another opportunity to express one’s narcissism and reaffirm one’s social status. I am a classical musician myself and find such phenomenon to be widespread not only as it relates to the “social” side of classical music, but also to the overrating, and attendant underrating, of composers — some of which do not indeed deserve the recognition they enjoy, while others’ masterpieces lie dormant because no one has yet had the curiousity to listen to them. Unfortunately I am afraid this is an inherent tendency of human nature, as Heidegger demonstrated in his sections on “das Man” in Being and Time — though made much, much worse in the time of the Internet.

    • Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:


      “If I may diverge from the trivial flautist/flutist debate “….

      Thank you!!!

      • Kincaidiana says:

        Mr. Sullivan and d1966,

        If you’re a flutist, it’s not at all trivial. It’s a huge, annoying issue which confronts most American flutists on a regular basis. It’s like having your name mis-pronounced all the time by well-meaning people who’ve usually just heard you perform or paid you for a flute lesson, so you must be careful not to offend them.

        You have to grit your teeth and smile.

        If the topic is brought up enough in places like this, perhaps these folks will realize that they’re mistaken.

        Mr. O’Riordan, the author of this piece, is one of us – he’s a member of our international flute community, and I’m sure is quite aware of our dilemma in the US about this pronounciation. He, of anyone, understands the situation, and i’m sure would forgive our momentary digression from his well-written essay.

  8. Sir:

    Mr O’Riordan’s concerns pertain to the whole music profession, not just to flautists (I make no apology for using the correct British English spelling).

    When choosing an instrument to buy/hire/&c. (speaking as a string player), I find it to be preferable to initially not know anything about age, the provenance or price. Within a vague price range, this information is often misleading and – in my experience – has contradicted aural judgement.

    As for overrated performers, I think the crux of the issue lies in the immense sycophancy of broadcasters. It is galling to hear radio presenters, many of whom in other contexts show themselves to be astute and intelligent listeners and musicians, regurgitate the same handful of superlative clichés with very little critical discussion or analysis.

    However, I would suggest that the various factors that condition tastes are most evident when it comes to judging composers: a lifetime’s compositional output is very unlikely to be consistent (even in the case of a short lifetime such as Mozart, Schubert, or Chopin), either in style or in quality, yet we all have the propensity to conjecture these facets from nothing more than a name. Many people are prejudiced against certain composers (see for an interesting example), styles, or even whole periods of time (e.g. “all music composed since 19xx”) to the extent that they will readily floccinaucinihilipilificate massive swathes of music that they have never heard.

    • ” floccinaucinihilipilificate”

      Is this the longest word ever used on Slipped Disc? I like it!

  9. Bob Summers says:

    In depth discussion of flautist/flutist:

    No question in the United States the proper usage is “flutist”.

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