The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > July 2010 > Flutes in Flight
Flutes in Flight

“What the elders frequently sing with wide-open mouths, the cautious youngsters strive to re-echo on their pipes. Zeuxis depicted this well, and would have surpassed art if life were to come to the aged ones, and sound to the pipes,” says the Flemish proverb “Soo D'oude Songen Soo Pepen De Jongen” (“As the old sing, so the young twitter”).

“Soo D’oude Songen Soo Pepen De Jongen” (“As the Old Sing, So the Young Twitter”). Music Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available. Professor Dayton C. Miller in his home studio in Cleveland, Ohio. 1935. Music Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

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 nearly 1,500 flutes and other wind instruments given to the Library by Miller in 1941. A scientist by profession, 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 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 through which the collection can be examined. The exhibition "As the Old Sing, So the Young Twitter" takes its inspiration from the musical and verbal relationship between birds and flutes. In the often-archaic definitions of words like "twitter," "chatter," "record" and "warble" are links between birdsong and human music-making. The exhibition is one of several featured online.

The exhibition explores the different realms of flute-playing, from the lively to the serene, and takes an etymological and iconographic journey through the depth and breadth of the Library of Congress collections relating to the flute.

Featured are a variety of wind instruments, including a whistle that can be opened and water added to create a “warbling” effect when blown, and several 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts relating to the flute, including a rare work that is the earliest-known book of instruction, in any language, for the transverse flute.

Instrument collecting in the Music Division began with the generosity of Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who gave the Library five Stradivarius instruments that formed the basis of the Cremonese Collection. The Library is also home to the Wilkins Collection of early stringed instruments and the Thai Collection of elegantly crafted Siamese-style folk instruments.