Gheorghe Zamfir, the first panflutist to achieve worldwide fame and recognition, has undisputably made enormous contributions to the pan flute. As a panflutist Zamfir certainly possesses great skill (as do many others), but it is generally agreed by panflutists that Gheorghe Zamfir's contributions to the instrument consist of the following:
1) the first panflutist to bring the pan flute to a worldwide mass media audience 2)The most prolific album sales of any panflutist in history to date
Over the course of his career, Zamfir has also been referred to with a host of titles, both press-bestowed and self-bestowed:
Romania's eternal magician of the Pan Flute //// the "reincarnation of the god Pan" //// the uncrowned "king of the panpipes" Maestro Zamfir //// Master of the Pan Flute //// the "true virtuoso" //// the "icon of the pan flute"
At first glance, this is an impressive if immodest litany. However, a closer examination of the facts behind the mask of this acclaim reveals some rather disconcerting truths. In a recent interview, while on a national tour in Canada, Zamfir claimed, "They [other panflutists] were born because
Zamfir exists in this world. I was the only pan flutist in 1970 -- I was alone at this moment." The facts, however, tell a different story: "At no time was Zamfir ever alone and unique merely for being a panflutist. He had several colleagues who were actively performing internationally during 1970, including fellow Romanians Simion Stanciu, Damian Luca, Nicolae Pirvu, and Radu Simion, to name a few. Moreover, countless players of different forms of the pan flute around the world have been active on many different levels throughout history, from shepherds playing in solitude in remote natural settings to entire ensembles performing for cultural festivals. It is agreed by those who have researched the pan flute's history that the instrument has a history spanning more than 6000 years. In the bounds of this enormous span of history, there were, without doubt, a myriad of panflutists worldwide, whose names we will likely never know, whose names have, unfortunately, vanished into the vast ocean of history. The best information available on the pan flute's history strongly demonstrates a great diversity of pan flute forms worldwide. These pan flute forms were obviously being played by many different peoples worldwide, for thousands of years before Zamfir was born. Rather than follow the evidence, Zamfir has elected to play the part of the quintessential fairy-tale dragon. He attempts to hoard the instrument to himself, piling its methodology, franchise, and distinction into a bed and sleeping on it, guarding it jealously, and breathing fire on anyone who presents anything contrary to this agenda. Zamfir's claims are not only dishonest and pompous, but historically inaccurate, in terms of both ancient and modern historical perspectives" . During another recent interview, Zamfir makes an incredible claim pertaining to his album sales: "In the 8o’s my success was enormous indeed in both US and Canada, and I am sure my discs were sold not by millions, but by tens of millions. They sold far better than Michael Jackson’s and Madonna’s discs." "In actuality, Michael Jackson's solo album, "Thriller", released in 1982, is the best-selling solo album of all time, with 60 million copies sold worldwide. This single album's sales are well in excess of Zamfir's career album sales of over 40 million recordings sold (according to Zamfir's own biography). Michael Jackson's career album sales total 350 million, while Madonna's career album sales total is 275 million".In yet another interview, the following passage appears: "I invented the modern pan flute (nai) in 1968," Zamfir explains, "and created an entire family of pan flutes that eventually helped me introduce the instrument in all musical styles." Zamfir, who handcrafts each pan flute and tunes them with beeswax, uses five different sizes of pan flute for his performances. From the traditional soprano pan flute, he built the alto, tenor and bass flutes, and in 1972, he created the contrabass. "The true lineage of the modern pan flute's sizes and ranges is somewhat different from Zamfir's account. In the late 60s and early 70s, all professional naists' (Romanian panflutists) instruments were built by one man - the late Constantin Popescu. In a conversation before his death, Mr. Popescu speaks of how, at the request of various naists (including Zamfir), he first designed the different ranges and sizes of Romanian pan flutes (alto, tenor, bass, etc.) that are now available today. Constantin Popescu emigrated with his family from Romania to Düsseldorf, Germany in 1980, and resided there until his death in 1995. This account points towards one conclusion":
"It is possible that Zamfir did conceive of the concept of differing ranges and sizes of the Romanian pan flute (nai), but he did not do the actual building. It was panflute ateliers such as Constantin Popescu who realized (in bamboo) Zamfir's ideas of pan flutes of varying scales".
When asked in this interview about the establishment of an academic course of study for the pan flute, Zamfir makes yet another grand claim: "In 2001 the first
class of panflute was introduced at the National University of
Bucharest and it was the first of this kind in the world." Once again, the facts are at odds with Zamfir's assertions. "My sources within the inner circle of Romanian naists (pan flute players) have informed me of the following: The world's first academic-level pan flute class was begun in 1984 in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, under associate professor Vasile Iovu. In 1989 the Music Academy in Chisinau added associate professor Ion Negura to their faculty as a pan flute instructor. In 1995, the University of Bucharest "Spiru Haret" welcomed Cornel Pana into their staff, the "Facultatea de Muzica", as an associate professor. Two years later, Cornel Pana, at the request of Dan Buciu, the Rector of the Music University of Bucharest, prepared and wrote a 4-year, academic-level pedagogical program of prescribed study for the pan flute. All these well-documented and substantiated academic milestones for the pan flute occurred before 2001". In this interview, Zamfir asserts, "According to the latest research as well as to the theory I presented in my doctoral thesis on this very topic, the Greek god Pan himself is the mythological creator of the very first pan pipe (hence the name of the instrument) and is originally from Tracia, so his origins were Romanian from the southern part of the Balkan Mountains, same as Dionysos, Apollo and Osiris." "Could this be a typo, or merely faulty knowledge of ancient mythology on Zamfir's part? Osiris has nothing to do with either the Greek mythological pantheon, or the lore of the region where modern Romania is located today. Osiris was, in fact, the Egyptian god of the dead and the underworld. In any case, it is clearly ludicrous to base a supposed (and, as yet unpublished) doctoral thesis, a work of academic research on the history of a very real instrument, on the contentions of ancient mythology. It is true that legends and mythology can hold clues and insight regarding the state and perception of a certain topic in ancient times, but mythology does not represent history itself." In a radio interview, Zamfir goes on to further display his ineptitude as an academic and a researcher, stating, "I found documentation for 32,000 years that the pan flute has existed." "Well, I must say that's an interesting date, but Zamfir forgot to include that little thing called - evidence. There are two possible sources of evidence for such a date - naturally-occuring materials, and man-made materials. The only natural materials that would last 32,000 years are stone and bone. We have found no stone or bone pan flute for that date, so we must currently conclude that the pan flute built of naturally-occurring materials didn't exist then. So, that leaves only man-made material. The oldest known man-made material is ceramic (fired clay). But, no ceramic has been found that is older than about 25,000 years, certainly not pan flutes. We must again conclude that such a pan flute didn't exist then. What does the available evidence currently tell us? Zamfir's conclusion of a 32,000-year history for the pan flute is scientifically nonsensical." Zamfir's rise to popularity as the "Master of the Pan Flute" during the late 70's and early 80's stems from a single fact: there was no panflutist that was known to mainstream Western media before Zamfir - a fact of which he has taken full advantage. It's as if a woman stands on an uninhabited planet and says, "I am the most beautiful woman on this planet." However, she omits the fact that she is also the only woman on the planet. Zamfir's rise to prominence follows this scenario exactly: self-promotion by misdirection and omission, "Master of the Pan Flute" by default. After all, it's easy to say "Master of the Pan Flute" about someone when there is no other point of comparison (a fact made hilariously clear by American stand-up comedian Brian Malow). "What has the purpose of such a title always served? Historically, it's a mechanism by which people try to impress others, and a mark of excessive pride. It has also been used to instill awe in the populace, and to cultivate a measure of reverence - whether deserved or not. In recent times, it has been used by music industry promoters as a marketing gimmick to boost album sales. These same promoters, incidentally, truly deserve the credit for Zamfir's album sales. Without them, there would have been no TV commercials, no radio play time, no concerts in the West for Zamfir, and finally, no albums". Much of the cause of Zamfir's fall in popularity can likewise be attributed to a single factor - the Internet. Before the introduction of the Internet, the possibilities for panflutists to make themselves known to the general public were limited to the not-so-tender mercies of mass media promoters. In this environment, there could be room for only one "master of the pan flute". Zamfir had the good fortune of winning the race to the mass media market, and was thus able to assume his preeminent position. With the advent of the Internet, however, everything began to change. For the first time, other previously unknown panflutists could enter the mass media market, not only locally, nor even regionally, but globally - on a level and scale Zamfir previously monopolized. Zamfir has exhibited recent signs of feeling the pinch of the new opportunities for other panflutists the Internet has facilitated. With these changes, Gheorghe Zamfir found himself standing at a crucial crossroads in his career. He then had a choice to make, and his alternatives were clear:
1) Should Zamfir support and aid this new generation of rising panflutists, and thereby become a revered elder master? OR
2) Should Zamfir condescend and dismiss this new tide of pan flute adepts, proclaiming himself as the "one and only"?
"In recent years, it has become abundantly clear that Zamfir has chosen alternative #2. He has chosen to see only into the past, and to understand only the self-perceived threat to his own preeminence. The decision is proving to be an unfortunate and costly one. Zamfir's golden years of popularity are behind him, after all, and, as a talk radio host once observed, "You shouldn't step on people on your way to the top, because you may meet them on your way down". By his own account, Gheorghe Zamfir resents the very existence of those he calls "amateurs" and "criminals", panflutists that belong to the "army of garbage". He styles himself as the one true master, the only panflutist worthy of having any association with the instrument. On page 2 of this article, Zamfir states, "I am not giving credit to any pan flute player except for my 10 students from the National University of Music of Bucharest.......Today there are about 2,000 pan flute players around the world who are making big business of the pan flute and the concerts altogether. Unfortunately, none of them has ever reached a high level nor have they understood the divine, purifying meaning of the pan flute. They merely deformed the pure sound of the instrument treating it as business by trying to imitate me ('I am going to be just like Zamfir'), but this never happened" "I cannot and will not presume to speak for other panflutists, but for me, the only credit and criticism that has professional importance can be found in only one place - my audiences. It has been my experience that all too many of my colleagues are much given to mutual jealousies and suspicions. In light of this, I can hardly expect to receive anything resembling professional objectivity from colleagues. Zamfir makes it very clear that he is no exception to my experiences. Does Zamfir think himself so lofty that people will ask for his opinion before they decide to like any panflutist they hear? I once read a comment from a music critic for Time Magazine: "To insist on stylistic performance conformity is cultism." Well, it does appear that Zamfir certainly has set himself up as the "Jim Jones of the pan flute." Zamfir behaves as if the pan flute doesn't exist without him, as if he alone holds the key to the union of the pan flute with the human spirit. He speaks of the "divine meaning" of the pan flute as though he alone knows what that is. With the one hand, he reserves the exclusive privilege to decide who is a worthy panflutist, and with the other hand he strikes down those who are indeed worthy panflutists. I don't need and never will need to be "just like Zamfir" - I have my own way of doing things, and I don't need his way. I say this now, and let all hear who will: spiritual union and enlightenment, with the pan flute or otherwise, is no one's exclusive possession - not Zamfir's, or any one else's. I need no one's approval to seek my path in life as a a panflutist, still less the approval of an arrogant snob with delusions of godhood ("reincarnation of the god Pan" - you've got to be kidding) who refers to other panflutists as "criminals", when they have done nothing except follow their hearts. Assuming that Zamfir is justified in calling other panflutists "criminals", because they have chosen to earn a living with the pan flute, what then do we call a panflutist that sells over 40 million albums, performs concerts all over the world, and then criticizes other panflutists for earning their living with the instrument? A word comes to my mind, and the word is - hypocrite". "Is this the person that I as a panflutist am supposed to respect? I think not. If anyone has anything (a lot of things) to learn, it is Zamfir".
". . . but where is it written that everything should be to one single person's taste?"
--J.G. Tromlitz, The Virtuoso Flute-Player
Zamfir's outlook is unlikely to win any popularity contests for him, but will only result in denying to him the acclaim he so clearly craves. This is clearly seen in the views of a growing number of panflutists, from students to professionals:"When I think of someone my own age being so immature, it's a shame. Maestro? You've gotta be kidding", says Harold Fromer, a 65-year-old panflutist living near Indianapolis, Indiana who keeps an active and successful private performance schedule.
Mathijs Luts, a 15-year-old student panflutist living in Belgium, comments, "I always suspected Zamfir was not telling the truth about many things. It's good to know there is someone like me in the world of the pan flute, who is also level-headed and thinks beyond the famous names. That person is Douglas Bishop".
It really is a shame that Zamfir has chosen intolerance over diversity. There is no question he has contributed to the pan flute's modern history in big ways, but he could have been a far greater man had he chosen alternative #1. "The situation for Zamfir is tragic, but of his own making. He insists that his misfortunes are due to the machinations of others, but my findings, written here for all to see, make one thing very clear: Zamfir needs no one's help to create misfortunes for himself, he's doing a wonderful job of that all by himself. I have thus far uncovered no evidence of any such persecution. As a CIA analyst once observed, "For conspiracy theorists, the strongest evidence of the existence of a nefarious conspiracy has always been the fact that no evidence of a nefarious conspiracy exists". It has always been the chosen policy of most panflutists not to discuss this topic, at least not publicly. My question has always been, "Why is Zamfir out of bounds for examination"? I have never understood the tendency of so many panflutists, to continue to regard with awe and worship one who speaks ill of every other panflutist except himself. Such as they will instead speak ill of me, who dares to do what they won't, who says what they fear to say, and who presents the facts in contrast to untrue statements made by Zamfir, about all of us (other panflutists). Also, many of my colleagues have told me, "You shouldn't waste your time on this". I do not believe that time spent in revealing the truth is wasted time; it's a shame that many of my colleagues apparently think so. The truth of the matter is that the "Maestro" (as Zamfir prefers to be addressed, if you can believe it) has done the instrument's modern profile at least as much harm as good, having made the pan flute into a musical laughingstock in the United States. The real reason why the pan flute is not better accepted in the modern musical mainstream can be said with only one word - Zamfir.