Watch a sweet little butterfly nearly crush a flutist’s dreams

September 17, 2014

International music competitions are full of nail-biting moments for young musicians seeking top prizes. But Japanese-born, Chicago-based flutist Yukie Ota encountered a peculiar distraction Monday in the first round of the hugely competitive Carl Nielsen International Flute Competition in Odense, Denmark, which draws flutists aged 13 to 29.

As Ota played Pierrre Sancan's Sonatine for the judges, a butterfly first landed in her hair and then settled on her left eyebrow as she continued to perform. Only a brief glance upward belied her complete concentration as the insect opened and closed its wings.

I asked Dr. Bob Robbins, curator of lepidoptera at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, what the butterfly was doing there. Was it attracted by the lights? Something on her skin? Just the fluttery sound of her flute? [[nid:119954 field_align=center]]

After taking a look at the video, Robbins told me that this was an Aglais io, or a Peacock butterfly, which is a very common species in Europe. He noted that it is "very weird" for a butterfly to come indoors like this, and that when butterflies land on people, it's usually because they are looking for salty water to drink.

"If you look closely at the video," he says, "you can see the butterfly's proboscis — its 'tongue' — out as it crawls across her forehead. It's looking for her perspiration. And she's under lights at a highfalutin competition. I'd be sweating a bit under that pressure."

Regardless of who wins this competition on Sept. 20, we say: Give Ota a prize for grace under pressure. Her floating, flittering little friend didn't faze her at all.

(A hat tip to Fred Child, host of Performance Today, who saw this video.)

Update: Ota passed this and moved on to the second round.  

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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