The Library of Congress in Washington, DC has the largest collection of flutes in the world with 1700 flutes. The collection includes a crystal flute made by Claude Laurent for president James Madison. The flute was saved by the First Lady Dolly Madison in 1814 when the British invaded Washington, D.C. during the war of 1812. Laurent patented a leaded glass flute in 1806 and barely 185 of the craftsman’s glass flutes still exist. His crystal flutes are the rarest of his instruments.
On September 23, 2022, Carla Haydenthe 14th Librarian of Congress and the first African-American woman in that position, remarked that the singer and musician Lizzo was going to be in Washington, DC for a gig and asked her — via Twitter — if she wanted to “come see” the world’s largest collection of flutes, and even play some. Lizzo enthusiastically agreed to visit.
The collection of flutes is mainly the result of a donation from Dayton C. Miller, physicist, astronomer, flautist and flute collector. He donated the collection to the Library of Congress in 1941. Like other instruments in the music division’s largest collection, flutes are played occasionally – and some donors even stipulate in their donation agreements that the instruments should be played.
Carla Hayden and the Library of Congress staff showed Lizzo around the famous collection and treated them to a mini concert. In a blog post, April Slayton, director of communications at the Library of Congress, wrote: “Lizzo respectfully took Madison’s crystal flute in her hand and blew a few notes. It’s not easy, because the instrument is over 200 years old. She huffed a little more when she was in the Great Hall and the Main Reading Room. Then, seeking a more practical flute from the collection, she serenaded the employees and a few researchers. He filled the space with music as sublime as art and architecture. Slayton added: “The cameras broke and the video rolled. For your friendly national library, it was the perfect time to show a new generation how we are preserving the country’s rich cultural heritage. The Library’s vision is that all Americans are connected to our holdings. We want people to see them.
Afterwards, Lizzo asked if she could play the crystal flute at her concert in Washington, D.C., and Library of Congress staff agreed, guaranteeing complete security. During the concert, Lizzo played the flute for a few minutes, but the message was significant as she told her audience, “the story is really cool guys.”
Lizzo has been classically trained on the flute since she was 10 years old and took music lessons with Claudia Momen. She also played the flute in the marching band while a student at University of Houston. And at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, she played with the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
Lizzo pays more attention to instrumental music and playing the flute as a hugely popular entertainer is vital, especially for young children watching who might not be able to imagine themselves as musicians. Participation in the arts is associated with an increase in academic success, improved cognitive skills, increased creative thinking, a greater sense of belonging at school and, perhaps most importantly, greater compassion for others. According The college councilmusic performance and music appreciation students scored 57 points more in the oral and 43 points higher in math [on the SAT] than students with low arts participation.
Unfortunately, the budgets for music education and arts education are generally meager and limited in schools in areas of great poverty, which creates new inequalities. According to a study speak National Foundation for the Arts, only “48% of at-risk students with low arts involvement attended college, while 71% of at-risk students with high arts involvement attended college.” Moderate involvement in the arts is important for students, but greater exposure and involvement is more powerful and provides lifelong benefits. Despite critical from some circles, Lizzo is bringing large-scale and much-needed attention to instrumental music at a time when the nation needs it most. Additionally, his actions have introduced the history of music and the Library of Congress’s largest collection to a wider audience across the country.