Jean-Pierre Rampal's admirers were gathered around him, hanging on his every word, the hushed awe of reverence thick in the air. They knew their cues: When he joked, they laughed; when he played, they applauded. He was the grand master and they his followers.

The respect paid Rampal recently when he conducted a "master class' presented by the Fairfax County Council of the Arts seemed well-earned Seven flute students chosen by audition played as the world-renowned flutist listened, stopping them at passage he felt were not properly exuecuted.

Rampal played first the role of the meticulous and scolding teacher, then the gentle, encouraging father, but he always retained a loving attention to the music itself.

"Okay, okay," Rampal said, stopping Mary Beth Kiss' rendition of Benjamin Godard's "Idyll."

"You have a nice sound but you have to bring more color to it. Move a little. This music's like a river. Make a difference in the sounds. You can do it. Use more expression."

Rampal imitated the student's rendition on his own flute, then played the melody as it should sound. The contrast was striking. The members of the audience, some of whom had musical scores spread out on their laps, sat silent, expectant. Kiss took another deep breath and tried again. Rampal conducted with clenched fists, asking more from her as she played, leaning close with soft-spoken words of instruction.

Later, Dan Fordan approached the microphone with his sleeves rolled up and launched into a piece by Prokofiev. His interpretation of the melody, which was alternately lyrical and angry, didn't please Rampal. The master stopped him almost immediately.

"Not enough staccato," Rampal said. "And the beginning is very, very free."

A little Prokofiev. Again Fordan was interrupted. Rampal circled his arm around the student's shoulders.

"Forte! Forte!" he damanded. "Put a little more passion into it. You're a young boy. Young boys are supposed to have a lot of passion in them."

The music continued for awhile, then stopped.

"You are shy?" Rampal asked Fordan. The youth nodded with a bit of a shrug, the hint of a smile. Shaking him by the shoulder the Frenchman told him in a paternal tone, "Don't be shy."

Rampal's flute simpered through a meek, shy version, then boomed out the correct, passionate melody.

Fordan moved through his piece as Rampal tapped his foot in time. The music took a gentle turn. The teacher stopped the student and sang through the passage.

"It should sound like a violin, like a voice," said Rampal. "You sing it."

Fordan shook his head.

"Why? Are you afraid to sing?" laughed the master. "You sing like me . . . badly?"

But the music sounded beautiful in spite of the interruptions, and Rampal was charming. His critiques sprang from good intentions, and the seven students took them that way. As Beth Anderton a graduate of the New England Conservatory, said later, "His criticism was apt. I though my phrasing was dry and he said so."

Several of the students said their participation in the class would carry a lot of weight in the music world. According to Lynne Fitzhugh of the Fairfax County Council of the Arts, that is exactly the way the series of master classes is supposed to work.

"It's a service for career entry-level musicians in the area," Fitzhugh said. "They can put it on their resumes."

Fitzhugh said she was instrumental in getting Rampal to teach the class, for which he was paid $600.

"I studied with him as a beginner in 1963," Fitzhugh said. "I bicycled down to Nice from Paris, rented a flute and asked if I could study with him. He remembered me as the only beginner who ever had the gall to so that. It was the most amazing adventure but it couldn't happen now. He only teaches the very best students and he has a heavy concert schedule."

During the question-and-answer session that followed the performances, Rampal spoke exuberantly about his work. When asked to "play some Bach" by a woman in the audience, he declined, preferring to talk flute with the eager crowd of about 300 admirers who had paid $10 each to watch the class in the theater of the Madeira Shool. w

There was a long discussion of recent changes in the design of the flute which Rampal characterized as "just for business, just for 'changement.'" When asked by a young girl whether his flute was "pure gold," the artist responded that it was only 14 karats, and went on to describe the merits of a gold flute, which he said has "a darker, warmer sound" than the "cold sound" of a platinum flute.

Others wanted to know Rampal's opinions of the acoustics at the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap. He said the Kennedy Center "is nice for the artist, but I don't know about how it is for the audience." He talked about the disadventages of playing in open-air theaters like Wolf Trap.

When it was time for Rampal to leave, the audience seemed reluctant to let him go.

One young man summed up the mood of the evening after reciting a long series of recollections that had all begun with the word's "Remember when he said . . ."

"Everything," he said with a sigh, "was so right."