Time to vent another pet peeve: “there are no great ____________ today”. Another take on the adage “kids these days….!”
“The standard of flutists has declined. There are so many good flutists today, but none can compare to the giants of the past” is a statement I have actually heard in several contexts by flutists of the older generation.
I am truly convinced what we are witnessing is a statistical phenomenon of human systems, not the implied degeneration of our collective abilites. Scientist Stephen Jay Gould referred to this type of degeneration as entropic homogeneity 1. He argued heavily against its being the agent of seeming decline. To paraphrase him, over time (1) human performance (here, flute playing) approaches its outer limits of human capacity, and (2) systems tend to an equilibrium as they improve. What has actually declined is the standard deviation in average ability, which is a natural result of flutists having gotten better over the years.
” Paradoxically, this decline [of the standard deviation] produces a decrease in the difference between average and stellar performance. Therefore, modern leaders don’t stand so far above their contemporaries. The myth of ancient heroes – the greater distance between average and best in the past – actually records the improvement of play through time.”Stephen Jay Gould, quoted in The Free Library
You could get into a lot of arguments here. Were the past heroes of flute playing relatively better, but absolutely worse (or equal)?
1 Gould, S. J. (1986, August). Entropic homogeneity isn’t why no one hits .400 anymore. Discover, pp. 60-66. Republished in Gould, S. J. Full House, Three Rivers Press, 1997. Gould applies his argument to the subject of sports, namely, baseball. I admit to directly stealing some of his wording and translating it into flute-speak.
Read about my other pet peeve “Too Many Flutists“