NAMM Member Reunites Long Lost Flute with Owner

Elizabeth Dale

Virtuosity Musical Instruments in Boston, Massachusetts, played a critical role in reuniting a lost flute with its owner last month. Thanks to an employee's keen eye and databases of lost and stolen instruments, a $13,000 instrument was returned to its rightful owner after nearly a decade.

Founded in 2015, Virtuosity Musical Instruments is a “meeting place for musicians to exchange ideas, network, and learn about instruments new and old. In April, Virtuosity again proved its ability to help “customers from several continents trace down their dream instrument,” only, in this case, the dream instrument was a lost flute.

Heidi Slykar, a performer with the New England Philharmonic, lost her flute in the back of a taxi after a gig at Howl at the Moon, a Boston live music venue. Slykar was devastated by the loss, having saved $10,000 from a full-time job she held during high school to purchase the instrument. As a result, Slykar had to stop performing until she could afford a new flute, a purchase that took nearly five additional years to achieve.

The flute, manufactured by Woburn, Massachusetts-based Brannen Brothers, reemerged nearly a decade later at Virtuosity when a customer inquired about the flute's value. During an appraisal, it is standard protocol to record the serial number, and employees at Virtuosity often photograph the instrument. Steve Johnson, owner of Virtuosity Musical Instruments, reports that while there are numerous databases that catalog lost and stolen instruments, there isn’t a centrally unified one. Johnson says, “If the party presenting the instrument doesn’t have original documentation or the instrument is unknown to us, we attempt to verify any information we can to be sure someone isn’t looking for it.” Luckily for Slykar, she purchased her flute directly from the small manufacturer, a fact that helped the investigation as the team at Virtuosity was able to call Brannen Brothers. Fortunately, the manufacturer still had the records from the original sale, along with a note about the police report filings from the prior decade.

CBS Boston - Lost Flute Returned

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The work of Johnson and his team to verify the provenance of instruments is critical. When asked about the importance of this process, Johnson shared, “First and foremost, depending on the laws in your state or city, you may be subject to fines and or legal action if you purchase or sell (even unknowingly) stolen goods. Beyond this, the music world is a small one, and you never know who might be looking for their lost instrument.”

The biggest piece of advice Johnson has for other retailers, “Keep detailed records of your customers and the instruments you sell and service.” Beyond that, he recommends becoming well versed in local laws. For example, in Boston, the law requires retailers to submit serial numbers and photo identification to the Boston Police Department and allows for a 30-day “clearing” period. While Johnson reports that complying with the law can result in the loss of a “quick flip,” this is preferred to incurring a fine and a tarnished reputation.

“It was so gratifying to reunite this musician with her long-lost flute,” says Johnson. “We have been fortunate enough to reunite other musicians with their instruments in the past as well. For a working musician, it’s not only highly personal, but they’re also tools of our trade, and to be without them can be costly for someone’s career.”

Johnson encourages customers to obtain instrument insurance and keep their records up to date to help reunite them with their property should it ever become lost or stolen.

For more information from Virtuosity Musical Instruments, please visit