Why Lizzo Playing A Flute From The Library Of Congress Is Important
The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. has the world’s largest flute collection with 1700 flutes. The collection includes a crystal flute made by Claude Laurent for President James Madison. The flute was rescued by First Lady Dolley Madison in 1814 when the British invaded Washington, D.C. during the war of 1812. Laurent patented a leaded glass flute in 1806 and a mere 185 of the craftsman’s glass flutes are known to still exist. His crystal flutes are the rarest of his instruments.
On September 23, 2022, Carla Hayden, the 14th librarian of Congress, and the first woman, and African American in the post, noticed that singer and musician Lizzo was going to be in Washington, D.C. for a concert and asked her — via Twitter — if she, might want to “come see” the world’s largest flute collection, and even play a few of them. Lizzo enthusiastically agreed to visit.
The flute collection is mainly the result of a donation from Dayton C. Miller, a physicist, astronomer, flautist, and collector of flutes. He gave the collection to the Library of Congress in 1941. Much like other instruments in the larger music division collection, the flutes are played from time to time — and some donors even stipulate in their donor agreements that instruments must be played.
Carla Hayden and the staff at the Library of Congress gave Lizzo a tour of the renowned collection and she offered them a mini concert. In a blog post April Slayton, Director of Communications at the Library of Congress wrote, “Lizzo reverently took Madison’s crystal flute in hand and blew a few notes. This isn’t easy, as the instrument is more than 200 years old. She blew a few more when she was in the Great Hall and Main Reading Room. Then, reaching for a more practical flute from the collection, she serenaded employees and a few researchers. It filled the space with music as sublime as the art and architecture.” Slayton added, “Cameras snapped and video rolled. For your friendly national library, this was a perfect moment to show a new generation how we preserve 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.”
Subsequently, Lizzo asked if she could play the crystal flute at her concert in Washington, D.C. and the Library of Congress staff agreed, ensuring comprehensive security was in place. During the concert, Lizzo played the flute for a few minutes, but the message was significant as she told her audience, “history is freaking cool you guys.”
Lizzo is classically trained on the flute since 10 years old, and took music lessons from Claudia Momen. She also played flute in the marching band while a student at the University of Houston. And during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, she performed with the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
Lizzo bringing greater attention to instrumental music, and playing the flute as a highly popular entertainer is vital, especially for young children watching who might not be able to envision themselves as musicians. Participation in the arts is associated with an increase in academic achievement, enhanced cognitive skills, increased creative thinking, a greater sense of belonging in school, and perhaps most important, a greater compassion for others. According to The College Board, students in music performance and music appreciation scored 57 points higher on verbal and 43 pointshigher on math [on the SAT] than students with little arts participation.”
Unfortunately, music education and arts education budgets are meager overall, and are limited in schools in high poverty area, creating further inequities. According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, only “48 percent of at-risk students who had low arts involvement attended college, while 71 percent of at-risk students who had intensive arts involvement attended college.” Moderate arts involvement matters to students, but greater exposure and involvement is more powerful and allows for lifetime benefits. Despite criticism from some circles, Lizzo is bringing much needed, large-scale, attention to instrumental music at a time when the nation needs it most. Moreover, her actions showcased the history of music and the Library of Congress’s larger collection for larger audiences across the nation.