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JMU News

03/09/2001

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS LOANS RARE CRYSTAL FLUTE FOR MADISON'S 250th

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Carol Kniebusch Noe doesn't know exactly what sounds will emanate from a rare crystal flute when she plays it in concert Wednesday, March 14, but she does know she'll be performing on an instrument with historical provenance.

The flute was owned by James Madison — a gift to the fourth U.S. president, likely delivered to him by the Marquis de Lafayette.

Noe, a professor of music at James Madison University, won't have much opportunity to practice on the Madison flute. On loan from the Library of Congress, the flute arrives only a few days — and under tight security — prior to her performance.

The Library of Congress rarely loans the instrument, Noe said, but special arrangements were made to make the historical flute part of JMU's observance of James Madison's 250th birthday anniversary, which is March 16.

The crystal flute, part of the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection, was crafted in 1813 by Claude Laurent in Paris. Laurent's flutes were prized in the first half of the 19th century, especially by European royalty and nobility, as superior musical instruments and as exquisite art objects, according to information Noe has collected.

The Miller collection, the world's largest flute archives, was amassed by the Cleveland physicist. He acquired the Madison crystal flute in 1920 for $200, Noe said.

"The Madison flute is beautiful to look at," Noe said. "It's not thin crystal. The tube isthicker, and there's a diamond-shaped pattern in the crystal."

Crystal flutes were developed to resist problems caused by changes in humidity and temperature that affected more common wood or ivory instruments.

Noe has been practicing the very different fingering techniques necessary to play the early flutes on an early 19th century wood flute with six keys, two more than the crystal flute.

"So I've blocked two keys off," she said.

"What we know about this particular flute is sketchy," Noe said of the crystal flute. "But we believe it was delivered to Mr. Madison by Lafayette." The instrument bears an inscription on one of its silver fittings: "A S E President Madison des Etats Unis," which translates as "To His Eminence President Madison of the United States." "A S E" is the abbreviation for "A Son Eminence." Another silver fitting is inscribed "Laurent/a Paris./1813."

"We don't know if Mr. Madison played the flute, but I'm going to think that he played it because I want to. Nobody knows that he didn't. And, of course, he must have handled it.

"In Colonial times, the gentlemen would often play the flute in the evening and playlittle American melodies or patriotic songs or just improvise," Noe said. "There's a whole collection of music called 'The Gentleman's Amusement,' and I'll play some songs from that."

Noe has served as a National Flute Association delegate to China in 1987 and the Soviet Union in 1989, and conducted the JMU Flute Choir (an ensemble she founded in 1973) in April 1999 performances as the first American flute choir invited to perform in England.

But this is a special opportunity for her.

"I've been teaching here for 28 years and I've see us grow from Madison College to James Madison University," Noe said. "I think it's the peak of my career to play something that actually belonged to James Madison. Words can't express what that means."

Noe's recital is at 8:15 p.m. in Wilson Hall Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.