A Worldwide History of the Pan Flute


   For some time, I have pondered the past and present history of the pan flute. One surprising insight I have gained is this: among my colleagues, it is an apparent rarity to consider the implications of any of the pan flute's history beyond its modern period, a span of time approximately encompassing the previous 60 years. Much of what modern panflutists understand as "pan flute history" is based on the assertions of their respective teachers (very few of whom have actually researched the pan flute's history), or even on the conceits of mythology. These accounts often name the usual prominent figures in the pan flute's modern history (Zamfir, Damian Luca, etc.), but rarely (if ever) address the pan flute's history beyond the previous six decades. During this modern period, the teaching and building of the pan flute has become the province of specialized ateliers and schools, as well as prominent performing panflutists. In the words of one very prominent European atelier: "This is the most artificial time for the pan flute". One of the most deplorable consequences of this increased institutionalization is that the pan flute's ancient history becomes a footnote, little studied (if at all) and neglected. One of my primary missions is to correct this oversight, by employing an evidence-based approach, and my knowledge and research of historical disciplines, to tell the pan flute's story with fidelity and impartiality.
   The pan flute's ancient history makes one thing very clear: for almost all of its history, the pan flute has not been a thing of the prominent, but of the "average Joes and Janes" who, liking the sound of the wind blowing through the reed and bamboo thickets of the world, decided to build their own pan flute, and enjoy themselves playing it. In the realization of this historically accurate "average person / pan flute" relationship is to be found the true nature of the instrument. The incredible diversity of the pan flute forms to be found worldwide, and the diverse origins of the people who have built and played them, overwhelmingly bears witness to this. This is in stark contrast to the compartmentalization of more recent years. When I examine the historical evidence and accounts, I can only arrive at this conclusion:
The pan flute is not a thing of one person, one name, one people, or one nation - it is a thing of all humankind.      -Douglas Bishop

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