“As the Old Sing, So the Young Twitter,” explores the different realms of flute-playing, from artistic depictions to the instrument itself. The exhibit is on view May 6 through Oct. 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, in the foyer outside the Performing Arts Reading Room on the first floor of the Library of Congress James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. It may also be viewed online at myLOC.gov. Following its closing on Oct. 30, the exhibition will travel to the Library of Congress/Ira Gershwin Gallery at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, where it will be on view from Nov. 13, 2010, to May 15, 2011.
According to the Flemish proverb, “Soo D’oude Songen Soo Pepen De Jongen” (“As the old sing, so the young twitter”). With a title inspired by this proverb, the Library’s display of selected items from the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection takes an etymological and iconographic journey through the depth and breadth of the Library of Congress collections relating to the flute. In doing so, it also explores the musical and verbal relationship between birds and flutes.
A scientist by profession (see below), Miller aimed “to gather all available materials relating to the flute, always proceeding critically and systematically, for the purpose of setting forth the history and development of the modern flute as an essential factor in the fine art of music.” In 1941, he donated his collection to the Library of Congress.
The Dayton C. Miller Collection may be the largest collection of objects related to one subject in the musical arts ever assembled. The Miller Collection consists of books, prints, photographs, music, correspondence, trade catalogs, statuary and more than 1,650 flutes and other wind instruments. An online presentation about Miller and his collection is accessible at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dcmhtml/dmhome.html. The site also contains a “Catalog of the Wind Instruments in the Dayton C. Miller Collection.”
In addition to documenting the technical development of the flute, the Miller Collection also illustrates how flutes have been perceived and portrayed. Miller himself placed his iconography into groupings such as “Animals,” “Pan” and “Outdoors and Pastoral.”
Yet there are other lenses by which the collection can be examined. In the traditional, if somewhat archaic, definitions of words like “twitter,” “chatter,” “record” and “warble” are links between birdsong and human music-making. On display are a variety of wind instruments, including a whistle that can be opened and water added to create a “warbling” effect when blown, several 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts relating to the flute and the earliest known book of instruction for the transverse flute.
Dayton C. Miller (1866-1941)
Born on a farm in Strongsville, Ohio, Dayton C. Miller was an acoustician and physicist. He attended Baldwin University (later Baldwin-Wallace College) in Berea, Ohio, and obtained a doctorate in astronomy at Princeton University. He taught astronomy at the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, and later became head of the physics department.
An ever-curious scientist, Miller read about German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen’s experiments with radiation and became one of the first Americans to take X-ray photographs. In 1908, he introduced the phonodeik, a device that photographed sound waves. Predating the electronic oscillator, it allowed scientists to analyze sounds from musical instruments to human speech. During World War I, at the request of the government, Miller studied the physical characteristics of pressure waves caused by the firing of large guns. The results provided material for the study of the condition known as “shell shock.”
An amateur flutist, Miller was also a collector of flutes and materials related to the history of the development of the flute. By 1935, he had amassed a vast amount of material, which he arranged in five separate collections: flutes and flute-like instruments; books and literary material; music for the flute; works of art relating to the flute; and portraits of flutists and composers for the flute. At the time of his death on Feb. 22, 1941, he was preparing to move his entire collection of flutes, books and related materials to the Library of Congress, where he planned to complete his varied investigations that remained unfinished and unpublished.
Instrument Collections in the Library
Two string fiddles; an ivory clarinet; a Chinese stone whistle, possibly dating back to around 1100 B.C.; flutes made of gold, jade, glass and even Plexiglas; three violins, a violas, and a cello made by Antonio Stradivari. These are just a few of the more than 1,800 instruments in the Music Division’s valuable collection at the Library.
Instrument collecting in the Music Division began in the 1930s with the generosity of Gertrude Clarke Whittall (1867-1965), who gave the Library five Stradivarius instruments that formed the basis of the Cremonese Collection. These were on display during a three-day symposium on “The American Violin: From Jefferson to Jazz,” held at the Library April 6-8, 2006. (See Information Bulletin, May 2006.)
Whittall’s generosity paved the way for other donors such as Dayton C. Miller.
The H. Blakiston Wilkins collection of six-stringed instruments made in the 17th and 18th centuries were given to the Library in 1937.
In 1960 King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand gave the Library what is referred to as the “Thai Collection” of 10 ornately crafted Siamese-style folk instruments. The collection includes two small hand drums, a pair of finger cymbals, two vertical flutes, a three-string zither and two pairs of two-string fiddles, which are designed to be played vertically. The king, who has reigned since 1946, is an amateur saxophonist and composer in the American popular music style. The Library holds several examples of his works.
Referring to the Cremonese Collection in her first and only radio broadcast, on Dec. 18, 1937, at a series of chamber concerts presented to commemorate the bicentennial of Stradivari’s death, Whittall said, “This collection of instruments … belong to every one of you, for they are given to our government to hold and protect forever. … They may be heard in concerts held in the Library, and through the medium of the radio, by an even larger audience. If the appreciation and enjoyment of music in America will be advanced thereby, the purpose of my gift will have been fulfilled.”