Pan Flute

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Object No. 47 of 50 — Significant Objects v2. PHOTO: Adrian Kinloch

[The auction for this object, with story by Deb Olin Unferth, has ended. Original price: $1.00. Final price: $63.50. Part of a special collaboration with Underwater New York, this object’s story shipped rolled into a vintage bottle found on the beach of Dead Horse Bay, Brooklyn. Proceeds from this auction go to 826 National.]

I was an ambassador once—of a small African nation. All of us diplomats, that is our dream: to be an ambassador. At least once, at least for a little while. Many of us get a little Eastern or African nation for a year or two. We are eager when it happens because our life’s goal is complete. But it isn’t so special after all. Soon it’s over and we continue on. We are diplomats again, and our time of glory is reduced to a sentence we can say in passing at a party, “Oh, I was ambassador there once, for eighteen months.” Or at a meeting, “Well, when I was ambassador, as I recall, witchcraft was still a powerful force in the north. I knew a man who believed his daughter had turned into a tree.”

Or when entertaining one’s wife’s friends, “That flute? Oh yes, when I was ambassador, the prince of the country rode two days on a camel to present it to me. Don’t know where he got it. They love plastic, you know. Who are we kidding? Plastic was the real revolution.”


Deb Olin Unferth is the author of the novel Vacation and the short story collection Minor Robberies. Her next book, Revolution, is forthcoming. She is an assistant professor at Wesleyan University.

7 thoughts on “Pan Flute

  1. That’s great!

    But you’re right — we disagree. This auction will prove that you need a pan flute. Nonconformist bidders know. YOU. NEED. THIS. PAN. FLUTE.

  2. Kevin,

    I agree that the pan flute is significant. No musical instrument that has been with humanity for more than 65 centuries can be considered anything but significant. However, significance is not the true problem that the pan flute’s image has nowadays.

    The true problem is, that the pan flute is viewed (by the masses) as an instrument for discriminating posers and intolerant arrogant snots. The pan flute has attracted a surfeit of people who behave as though possessing even an ounce of pan flute knowhow, renders them and their opinions superior to those who do not.

    When a non-panflutist expresses a less-than-positive opinion, the pan flute chat groups simply write them off as ignorant , uninformed, and uneducated, while simultaneously holding to their smugly held belief in their imagined musical and cultural superiority.

    The willingness of the online pan flute chat groups to:
    1) give shelter to, and fail to address discriminating attitudes
    2) silence dissenting voices under the guise of “maintaining the peace”
    3) fail to address favoritism towards certain members
    4) fail to accept the reality of the masses’ perceptions

    All of these factors have led to the instruments’ continued marginalization in the modern musical consciousness.

    After all, when the chips are all down, Kevin, who will want to play an instrument that is associated with people for whom arrogance, discrimination, censorship, and intolerance are the order of the day?

    Who will want to be associated with a**holes?

    So, how can this be repaired?

    The solution is simple, but I fear it is beyond the power of the present pan flute chat group regimes to accomplish. The solution is simply this: make the pan flute a cool instrument to play.

    When the pan flute is as cool an instrument to play as the guitar, then one of my lifelong dreams will be realized. To that end, I make knowledge of the pan flute freely available to all, and damn any pompous “virtuoso” that doesn’t like it.

    Douglas Bishop

    P.S. Things are a little different, Kevin, in a place where you can’t make my messages disappear

  3. I’m 75 years old and never even heard of a panflute until after I retired. I’ve taught myself to play a panflute and I LOVE IT! AT my age I don’t much care what anyone else thinks.

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