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May 9, 2024 20 mins

Ever found yourself standing between Lizzo and André 3000 at yet another cocktail party, and can't think of anything to say to them? Well, you're not alone. A lot of people don't come to parties with enough flute facts in their arsenal. Luckily, we can help. Just memorize every single word of this podcast, and you'll be golden.

Guest starring the wonderful Mary Phillips-Sandy!  

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
You're listening to Part Time Genius, the production of Kaleidoscope
and iHeartRadio. Guess what, Mary, what's that? My gosh? So,
do you know that in medieval times bad musicians were
punished with something called the shame flute?

Speaker 2 (00:19):
Wait, medieval times the theme restaurant, or medieval times the
historical period.

Speaker 1 (00:23):
Which is a good distinction, but I'm talking about the
historical period, and shame flutes were the super weird form
of medieval punishment, which I'm kind of obsessed with now. Basically,
it was a heavy clarinet looking thing that was made
of iron and attached to a metal collar. So if
you're forced to play the shame flute, the color would
hang around your neck, and then to hold it up,

(00:45):
your hands would actually be like clasped or locked into
place around the keys of this non playable clarinet. So basically,
for offenders, it looked like you were holding up this
ridiculous flute and playing it.

Speaker 2 (00:55):
So do you know what kind of musical crime would
cause you to get sentenced to wear the shame flute?

Speaker 1 (01:00):
I don't really. There are a bunch of these shame
flutes in various museums across Europe. A medieval crime museum
in Rothenberg, Germany, and there's Amsterdam's Torture Museum, but they
don't really specify the crimes. They mostly say it was
for bad musicianship, so maybe it was just invented by
medieval tiger parents to get their kids to practice more.
But getting classed into a so called flute of shame

(01:22):
was only part of the punishment, because after we were
locked in, offenders would be paraded around the streets where
the public could taunt them by throwing rotten fruits and
vegetables at them. But that's just the first of nine
essential flute facts we've got today, so let's dive in. Hey,

(01:58):
their podcast listeners, welcome part time genius. I'm Mungishtigula, and
today I've got my good friend Mary Philip Sandy sitting
in the studio with me and on the other side
of the soundproof glass wearing a novelty T shirt that,
for some reason says my other flute is a shame flute.
That's our pal Ramsey. What a bizarre shirt anyway, Mary,
I am thrilled you're here. For listeners who don't know

(02:20):
Mary is a quadruple hyphen It She was my savior
on Skyline Drive and a few other shows that we
made last year, and she's done everything from writing to
researching to producing. And she's also the host extraordinaire of
one of my favorite podcasts, ever, Let's Talk About Cats,
And today I managed to wrangle her into the studio
to talk about flutes. So, Mary, did you ever play

(02:43):
the flute?

Speaker 2 (02:43):
So my musical ability is really limited in general and
specifically to stringed instruments with no more than four strings.
That's it, That's all I could do. I played the
violin and the bass. I could not handle anything more
complicated than that was it for me.

Speaker 1 (02:57):
And no ukuleles, innemics.

Speaker 2 (02:59):
Oh man, I should have thought that. No, I didn't.
I didn't.

Speaker 1 (03:01):
I didn't.

Speaker 2 (03:02):
Maybe, you know what, I'll take it up this summer.

Speaker 1 (03:04):
Do your kids play any instruments?

Speaker 2 (03:06):
My son Julian just started playing the saxophone.

Speaker 1 (03:08):
How's that going?

Speaker 2 (03:09):
It's really annoying.

Speaker 1 (03:13):
I know. I think about all the instruments that like,
we played in our house, and you know, we started
on piano young, but every other instrument must have just
been awful for my parents and for my dog, who
used to howl when we played the violin or the.

Speaker 2 (03:26):
Clarinet in pain or like cheering you on.

Speaker 1 (03:29):
You know, I used to think of a dueting, but
I think it's more paid, So why don't we get started?
So very part of the reason I wanted to do
an episode on flutes is that I know basically nothing
about flutes, and also I feel like flutes are vaguely
in the culture, Like I recently learned that Terry Cruz
from Brooklyn nine to nine fame played the flute as

(03:51):
a kid. Lizzo had that big incident where she got
to play James Madison's crystal flute. Do you remember that?

Speaker 2 (03:55):
How could I forget?

Speaker 1 (03:56):
Yeah? You know what I didn't realize is Downy Madison,
I think save that flute from the White House from
a burn.

Speaker 2 (04:02):
It was one of the things that she grabbed when
she was running out.

Speaker 1 (04:04):
And the library or Congress which is where that flute
is now has one of the largest flute collections in
the world apparently, which is surprising. And of course there
was Andre three thousand who put out that all flute
solo album after I've read some quote where he was saying, like,
what am I going to wrap about now? As a
middle aged man like my colonoscopy, so he leaned into
his flute instead, which I really love. So where do

(04:26):
you want to start today?

Speaker 2 (04:27):
How about with a fact about recorders, which are the
original flute and will most of us know and probably
dread recorders as an instrument of torture. Recorders are actually
some of the oldest instruments we have. Some of them
date back to the thirteen hundreds. They were made out
of bone or wood or ivory, and they were the
dominant type of flute for a very long time. King

(04:48):
Henry the Eighth, when he wasn't divorcing people, kept a
collection of seventy five recorders. He even used to compose
recorder music, including a banger called if Love Now Reigned,
maybe dedicated to one of his many wives, I don't know.
And despite the way recorders are abused in elementary schools
across the country, very serious composers like Bach, Handel and Vivaldi,

(05:12):
they all wrote music for the recorder.

Speaker 1 (05:14):
So I've heard all of them, and I really had
no idea that the recorder was this like serious classical instrument.
It always feels like like kind of a joke to me.
So why isn't the recorder. Taken seriously today.

Speaker 2 (05:27):
Things started to change for the recorder. When the transverse flute,
you know the ones where you hold it horizontally and
you blow across it. It's the thing you think of
when you hear the word flute. Once those arrived from
Asia in the fourteenth century, they kind of supplanted the recorder,
and by the mid eighteen hundreds, recorders were no longer
a part of orchestras or chamber music groups.

Speaker 1 (05:46):
Oh that's interesting. So I guess this gets into another fact.
But do you know how recorders got into schools? I mean,
I love my kids, I love my music. I love
that my kids play music. But every year, and I
don't know if you do this, I dread when I
get that note from the school that the kids are
going to learn the recorder. Has Julian done this too? No?

Speaker 2 (06:04):
No, he never got a recorder. He never got a recorder,
straight to the saxophone.

Speaker 1 (06:08):
You are so lucky because I feel like I feel
like our house is filled with these like squeaking nursery
rhymes or it was. And I'm kind of embarrassed in
with this, but we have this like one bookshelf that's
particularly high, and I bet if you looked up there now,
they're like three or four dusty recorders, just like it
hidden because I got so sick of hearing all the squeaking.

(06:28):
But so tell me how they got into schools.

Speaker 2 (06:32):
Yeah, So, like I was saying, the recorder kind of
disappears in the eighteen fifties, but then in the nineteen
hundreds it gets rediscovered, and by the nineteen sixties it
finds its way into pop music, like Paul McCartney plays
it on the Beatles song Fool on the Hill. It
gets used in some experimental and avant garde music. But
there are kind of three main reasons that you find

(06:53):
them in schools. One, they're simple to play. You can
make a reasonably good sound by just blowing into it right.
It's not like the trumpet where you need some technique
to get it going to get a real sound. There's
also this composer named Carl Orf who started advocating for
the recorder in the mid nineteen hundreds. He was a
big influence on musical education, and his whole thing was
that if an instrument is easy to play and easy

(07:15):
to understand, and if it's easy to mimic with your voice,
like instead of rote memorization, if you can hear something
and then play it, it helps with musical development.

Speaker 1 (07:25):
Which makes sense.

Speaker 2 (07:26):
It does, it really does. But then the third thing
was the proliferation of plastic because suddenly you could get
this instrument that schools could purchase for a few dollars
or at bulk rates for even less. All of that
made recorders the starter instrument of choice.

Speaker 1 (07:41):
Yeah, which I'm sure is what the graduate they were
alluding to with that one last plastics.

Speaker 2 (07:45):
The hidden meaning was recorders.

Speaker 1 (07:48):
So I've got a gross fact, and it's probably the
grossest fact I've ever told on this show, and one
I can't help from telling you. It's about this guy
named Le Petomin, aka the Fartist. Do you know what
this guy?

Speaker 2 (08:01):
Shockingly I don't.

Speaker 1 (08:04):
So he's a flatulence artist who, in I guess the
late eighteen hundreds only nineteen hundreds, became the highest paid
performer in France. Apparently he was making over twenty thousand
francs per show. But he used to appear at places
like the Mulan Rouge and he'd just kill He would
show up in a tux and then he had a
whole routine of fart impressions he would do, from using

(08:27):
the rude sound to imitate roosters to toads, to a
dog whose tail got stuck in a door, to a
mother in law. It just went on and on. But
for his finale, according to slay dot com, he would
quote play a flute backwards and then proceed to blow
smoke rings out of it, which is all very strange.
This is what Slate writes about it. Quote. Women in

(08:47):
the audience, especially those wearing corsets, often laughed so hard
they passed out. One man had a heart attack. The
Mulan Rouge took advantage of this by stationing nurses around
the theater and by posting warnings of how dangerous the
show was, which of course only made people more eager
to attend. And lest you feel guilty for giggling over
toilet humor here orre too stuffy to see what's so funny,

(09:11):
know that La Petromain hobnob with Renoir and Matisse, and
that Revel adored him. It's high society. In fact, friendly
Sigmund Freud was so obsessed with him that he kept
a picture of him on his wall, which is so bizarre.

Speaker 2 (09:27):
I think that's an understatement. Well here's the fact that
is a little more savory, but still a little scandalous.
In two thousand and nine, a super devoted music student
planned out this crazy museum heist just so that he
could buy himself a new flute.

Speaker 1 (09:41):
So this sounds crazy already, But how expensive was this flute?

Speaker 2 (09:45):
Like tens of thousands of dollars. It was a serious flute.
So the flute player's name is Edwin rist And in
two thousand and nine he was studying at London's Royal
Academy of Music. But according to news articles, he was
also completely obsessed with James Bond, sure as one does,
and he figured that a good way to make money
is to boost something that isn't that important to science anymore,

(10:06):
but that is still valuable. So he set his sights
on a collection of bird skins at the Natural History
Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire, his reasoning being that these
are feathers and skins from over one hundred years ago.
Any scientific knowledge he can actually get from those things,
it's been extracted decades ago. But there's an incredible market

(10:27):
for eggs, feathers and skins in England it's called the
Feather Underground. That's a real thing. And Edwin knows he
can sell these things online for a lot of money,
so he takes time, He makes a plan, he scouts
it all out. He pretends to be a grad student
at Oxford and gets permission to go to the museum
photograph the collection, maps out the layout of the building,

(10:50):
and then he breaks in one night by throwing a
brick at a window and sneaks in with latex gloves,
a box cutter, a suitcase and fills up the suitcase
with as many days birds as he can.

Speaker 1 (11:01):
Wait, so I feel like he's so James Bond that
he breaks a window by throwing a break through.

Speaker 2 (11:07):
Wait, it gets even more, It gets even more Bond.
Listen to this. He tries to make his get away,
but he misses his train home, so he ends up
having to sleep in the train station overnight, which definitely
is the thing James Bond would do. But the thing
is Edwin got away with it for like seven or
eight months. It took the cops that long to catch
up with him.

Speaker 1 (11:26):
And so how does everyone know about his flute obsession?

Speaker 2 (11:29):
Well, his eBay handle for selling all of this stuff
online was flute Player nineteen eighty eight, so that was
that was the first clue. Sure, But when he was caught,
he admitted that all his money had gone to a
flute and he pleaded guilty to both the burglary and
money laundering. But what's interesting is the judge took pity
on him. He never really did serious jail time. He
just graduated from music school, moved to Germany, and started

(11:53):
making heavy metal flute videos on YouTube. You can find them.
They're all there. He even doesn't all flute cover of
Metallica's Master of Puppets.

Speaker 1 (12:03):
That's amazing. I feel like we need to make a
Spotify list at the end of this for sure of
heavy metal flute. So here is a dumb one. One
of my favorite things is looking at ridiculous theories about instruments,
Like there's this old theory from eighteen ninety six where
American newspapers began declaring that they finally figured out what
was causing male pattern baldness, and it turns out the

(12:25):
culprit was brass instruments like marching bands and trumpets and
traumbone sections or of the reason that America was going
bald And this kind of thing occurs for every instrument.
This is from the site fizz dot org, but it
claims that in the seventeen twenties, when the flute was
more commonly played like a recorder like you were talking about,

(12:45):
women were banned from playing the instrument, not just because
it looked indecent, but also because it took away many
of the juices better suited to wet ones, appetite, and
advanced digestions. So for better digestive health, you don't want
to play the flute. But flutes weren't just seen as detrimental.
Other cultures, like the ancient Greeks, thought the flute had
healing powers, and doctors of that time would claim that

(13:08):
if you alternated listening to sounds from a flute and
a harp, you could cure yourself of gout.

Speaker 2 (13:13):
That is a great tip, and we have got more facts,
but before we get to them, let's take a break.

Speaker 1 (13:33):
Welcome back to part time Genius. We're talking about flutes. So, Mary,
what do you have up next?

Speaker 2 (13:38):
Well, continuing on my bird theme, here's one. Here's one
that's fun and I'm sure you've heard of, or maybe
you haven't. Have you heard of liar birds.

Speaker 1 (13:47):
Yeah, they're kind of like mocking birds, or really good mimics.

Speaker 2 (13:50):
Yeah, that's right. And in fact, one of the things
that's interesting is that for decades now, liarbirds have been
mimicking a song that they heard someone play on the flute.
Apparently in the nighte teen sixties, this Australian park ranger
named Sidney Curtis heard some lyrebirds singing what sounded like
the hook or fragments of songs. He started looking into
it and realized that a farmer in New South Wales

(14:13):
had played these two popular songs from the nineteen thirties.
One of them was called the keel Row and another
was called the Mosquitoes Dance. He played them for birds
in his backyard on the flute, and for some reason,
the birds loved it. He must have been really good.
As one ornithologist wrote in two thousand and six, quote
today the flute song has been heard one hundred kilometers

(14:34):
from the original source. A human tune is spreading through
the lyre bird world as they've decided through generations to
prefer just two shards of our particular music that's.

Speaker 1 (14:45):
Really funny, right, like, instead of repeating things like who
Let the Dogs Out, or the Thong song. They've chosen
these songs from the thirties to perpetuate. It's really wonderful.

Speaker 2 (14:55):
Yeah, even birds get earworms. So all right, you have
for your last fact.

Speaker 1 (15:02):
Well, I had been thinking about it talking about Lizzo
and that flute collection at the Library of Congress, but
instead I think I'm going to talk about the hyper
bass flute, which is this massive flute that bends in
all directions. It kind of looks like someone's playing an anaconda,
like it's super thick, and it's twenty six feet of
flute that's bent into geometric shapes, and it is so

(15:24):
rare that there are only two of them. I don't
know why I'm so obsessed with it, but it's partially
because the sounds are so low that it occupies an
octave below a piano.

Speaker 2 (15:35):
Wait, that's fascinating. What kind of music can you play
on it?

Speaker 1 (15:38):
Then I read that's so low pitched that some of
the tones can't even be heard by human ear, which
is crazy. But I was curious, and I found a
video of this guy, Peter Sheridan, who is a low
flute specialist. That's a job it's also an amazing thing,
and it's so sweet. He's got a whole video series
of him showing off different types of loaf flutes, but

(16:00):
it doesn't really sound like music. It almost sounds like
percussive and low pitch breaths. I mean, you can tell
the distinct tones, but it's often apparently paired with electronic
music and loops. And my favorite part of this whole
thing is that Sheridan has this album of electronic, avant
garde hyper based flute. It's called Groaning Oceans, which is

(16:21):
I think a fair description of what the music sounds like.

Speaker 2 (16:24):
Okay, so here's my last fact, which I think is
kind of sweet. In twenty fifteen, more than fifty thousand
people tuned into a college flutist's recital after his Facebook
invitation accidentally went viral. So I found this story in
The Independent. But twenty fifteen, this amateur flutist, a student
at the University of California, made a Facebook event, as

(16:45):
one did back then, for his senior flute recital, and
with it, he included this photo of him with his flute.
He's sort of standing there smiling. He's got the flute
over his shoulder, he's got a sweater. He looks just
so wholesome and so happy, and the invitation reads, the
year's coming to an end soon and I will be
performing my final senior recital. Exclamation point. Please come out

(17:07):
and support if you can. You will hear some beatboxing, jazz,
and may even see some dancing. Plus there will be
some refreshments. Who can say no to that? So he
sends this out to maybe seventy people that he hopes
will show up, you know, family and friends. But suddenly
the number of attendees just starts to grow. It goes
up to one hundred and forty people, and then it

(17:28):
catches fire overseas. People in the UK get obsessed with it,
and all of a sudden, there are memes of this guy.
His name is a Zem. There are memes of a
Zem with Oasis, him getting knighted by the Queen. Twitter
goes wild too. People are tweeting things like if you
aren't going to a Zem senior flute recital, I don't
want to know you. And so many people are jumping

(17:48):
on the bandwagon now that he's blown up. How many
of you were at the junior recital? So by this
time there are a hundred I'm sorry, this is so funny.
By this time, there were one hundred and four thousand
people signed up to attend this thing, and when it
actually live streamed, there were fifty thousand computers tuned in.

(18:10):
There were people throwing viewing parties all over England. And
for his part, a Zeem was super chill about the
whole thing. He just thought the attention was really funny,
and he was delighted that one super fan even traveled
all the way from the UK to see his forty
four minute flute performance live in person.

Speaker 1 (18:29):
That is incredible. Yeah, and it feels like a time
when the Internet was kind of like a kinder, gentler place. Yeah.
I mean, I think as much as I love my
shame flute fact and the one about the French artist,
I think the story wins you this week's trophy. Do
you want to give a speech or thank anyone?

Speaker 2 (18:46):
Well, I want to thank Azim. I just want to
thank Azeem for being a Zeem. That's it.

Speaker 1 (18:51):
Well, it makes sense. Well, I want to thank you
for being here to discuss what's obviously one of the
most important and pressing topics of our time and I've
got to give a special thank you to Anna Green
for the research help on this episode. That is it
for this week's Part Time Genius. Thank you all so
much for listening. That's such a great fact. It's amazing.

(19:14):
It feels like everything now is so manufacturer.

Speaker 2 (19:17):
It does right exactly. It would be Brandon now.

Speaker 1 (19:31):
Part Time Genius is a production of Kaleidoscope and iHeartRadio.
This show is hosted by Will Pearson and me Mongashtikler
and research by our good pal Mary Philip Sandy. Today's
episode was engineered and produced by the Wonderful of Dylan
Fagan with support from Tyler Klang. The show is executive
produced for iHeart by Katrina Norvell and Ali Perry, with

(19:54):
social media support from Sasha Gay, trustee Dara Potts and
Buying Shoy. For more podcast from Kaleidoscope and iHeartRadio, visit
the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to
your favorite shows.

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