Today the term 'Flute Choir' generally refers to an ensemble of 5 or more flutes. Historically this would include fife and drum corps, Irish flute bands, as well as small ensembles, such as flute quintets. 18th century French composer Boismortier wrote flute quintets which are still popular today. The “modern” flute choir, often including the piccolo, alto and bass flutes, and sometimes Eb flute and contrabass flutes, in addition to the "regular" flute, is a recent development. The once sparse selection of repertoire for the group is now abundant and includes a large variety of literature.
“Modern” flute choirs first surfaced in the 1960's, primarily in colleges. The directors often arranged or composed music for the groups. Gradually these groups began to learn about each other, and in 1972 a small group of flutists pursued a vision of a national meeting to come together just for the love of the flute. The National Flute Association was formed with its first annual meeting held in California in August 1973. James Christensen was asked to arrange Bach’s Air from Suite No. 3 in D Major for mixed flute ensemble, which was the only work presented for flute choir at the meeting. This was the beginning. The NFA sponsors annual contests and commissions for flute choir pieces. Many new works are published each year. Today there are over 1000 works published for flute choir. The NFA convention invites as many as 16 flute choirs to perform at the annual convention. The selection is very competitive.
The most common instruments in a flute choir are piccolo, C flute, alto flute and bass flute. Eb flute and contrabass
flute are recent additions. Students
really enjoy having the opportunity to play the different flutes, and each instrument brings a distinctive tone color to the ensemble. However, because many groups only have access to C flute and piccolo, compositions are often published with C flute substitutions for Eb flute or alto flute. A number of composers have also begun writing for “expandable” Flute Choir. An “expandable” work can be performed successfully with various numbers of flutes, for example from a quartet format to 6 or more parts, using alto and bass flutes as an addeddimension, rather than a duplication of existing parts.