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An introduction to Irish Tinwhistle

By Phelan in Culture
Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 04:08:01 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

The tinwhistle is an instrument steeped in musical tradition. While played to some small extent in African Kwela music, in Civil War re-enactments, and even some bluegrass, it's in traditional Irish music that the whistle really makes it's home. With the popularity of productions like Riverdance and the Titanic, traditional Irish music has seen a resurgence in popularity. This seems undeniable--even Metallica has recorded a rendition of the traditional tune Whiskey in the Jar. And the whistle has seen a corresponding increase in popularity, use, and availability.

The whistle has been used in the scores of large-scale productions like Braveheart and the Lord of the Rings. It's also been featured in less-than-epic productions, such as the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants, and television commercials (the "beef, it's what's for dinner!" commercial theme is a direct descendent of the traditional tune Bonaparte's Retreat). Modern bands such as the Corrs are blending traditional Irish music with a modern sound. Their CDs feature many traditional tunes like Toss the Feathers and The Minstrel Boy, and Andrea Corr plays the whistle in much of their repertoire. It would be hard to be exposed to much media being produced today (in the form of movies, music, or television) without being exposed to the unique sound of this instrument. It is one of the simplest types of instruments to learn; you can play your first simple tune within minutes of picking one up. And yet mastering the sophisticated style of the whistle can take a lifetime.

As anyone who has seen the move The Titanic can attest, the movie is full of flowing melodies that evoke the feeling of the rolling green hills of Ireland. What they may not know, however, is that most of this music was recorded on the lowly tinwhistle. It seems almost inconceivable that an instrument less-sophisticated than an elementary-school recorder would be capable of expressing highly energetic and lively dance tunes, and also equally capable of rendering moving, haunting melodies. And yet, both tunes linked above were recorded using exactly that.

The tinwhistle has been known by many names. In older times, this family of instruments was known as "fipple flutes" or "flageolets". As they were first mass-produced from tinplate, it's easy to see how they got the name "tinwhistle". Less sure is how they came by their other common name, the "penny whistle". Some experts theorize that at one time it was customary to tip a street musician a penny. Others theorize that the whistle cost a penny at one time, and thus the name. Both theories are logical guesses, as there exists no written literature on the subject. These days, you're as likely to hear the instrument also called an "Irish whistle", or even more simply, "whistle". I will use tinwhistle and whistle interchangeably throughout this article.

As I mentioned, the whistle is a member of the fipple flute family, as is the recorder. A fipple was originally a block of wood that was used to direct your breath across the sound ramp of the instrument. The fipple was part of the mouthpiece, and together, the fipple and mouthpiece performed the same function as the lips of a flutist: To direct the stream of air and produce a sound. Flutists can spend months or years perfecting their lip position ("embouchure"). Whistles and recorders use technology. It's relatively certain that you'll be able to produce a clear, clean tone from a whistle almost immediately. These days, most whistle mouthpieces are one-piece affairs, made of injection-molded plastics, crafted from metal, or carved entirely from wood. For this reason, the word "fipple" has usually come to mean the entire mouthpiece of the whistle, as the fipple is often no longer a separate and distinct part of the instrument. In this homemade whistle mouthpiece, the wooden block you can barely see is the fipple.

The whistle shares may characteristics with the simple system flute. It has six holes, and can cover an entire two-octave range--suitable for most Irish music. Close all holes, and you get the lowest note of the scale. Open the first bottom hole, and you get the next note up. And so forth. By the time you have all holes open, you've covered an octave. You get the second octave by using the same finger pattern of the first octave, only blowing harder. It's relatively simple; thus the name simple system. Unfortunately, this also means that the instrument has limitations. The whistle is a diatonic instrument. This means it is only made to play in only one key. On the other hand, chromatic instruments such as pianos or recorders or Boehm flutes, are able to play in multiple keys--the piano does so using the white and black keys. The recorder does so using special finger hole arrangements and complicated finger patterns. This is really of no concern to us, however, as nearly all traditional Irish music is able to be played on a whistle in the key of D. As I don't wish to delve much into music theory in this article, you need only know that you can play in both the keys of D and G on the whistle, and almost all Irish music is in the key of D or G (and very rarely in A), and thus playable on a D whistle. We'll get into why that is in a later article, though those familiar with music theory can probably already guess.

Simple system flutes have been around since the dawn of recorded history. Chinese archaeologists recently uncovered a 6000-7000 year old simple system bone flute in Zhejiang Province. A 12th-century whistle-type instrument made of bone was also excavated in the Old Norman quarter of Dublin. However, as an instrument, the whistle was not standardized and mass-produced until the nineteenth century. In 1843, Robert Clarke of Suffolk, England, decided to sell his home-made whistles to improve his lot as a farm laborer. He eventually had enough demand to start a factory. Rather than carving his whistles, Robert Clarke rolled and soldered tinplate around a wooden fipple. Factory production meant that whistles could be made cheaply, and that they would each be relatively in tune. These whistles were affordable, and a vast improvement in quality over whistles that young boys whittled out of willow or bone. It is during this time that history starts taking note of professional musicians who use the whistle as their primary instrument. Special note is made of Whistling Billy, who made a living playing the Clarke tinwhistle in pubs and busking on street corners. It is said that he would often entertain the crowd by playing the whistle in his nose!

Today, there are dozens of brands of tinwhistles, most of them of modern manufacture. They generally fall into two categories, expensive and cheap. Cheap whistles generally cost $50US or less. The Clarke Tinwhistle Company still makes a whistle of rolled tinplate pretty much the same as the kind of whistle Whistling Billy would have played, costing close to $10US. With the modern interest in Irish music, the Clarke Tinwhistle Company has also made two other inexpensive whistle lines (The Sweetone and the Meg. More on those below). In addition, the Generation brand of tinwhistle can be found in most any music store for only a few bucks. They come in a variety of keys, but as mentioned, D is the most important. In fact, most of the great old masters of the Irish whistle play on a Generation. Of course fifty or so years ago, the selection of whistles was extremely limited. The problem inherent in cheap factory production is quality control. One hole drilled a fraction of a millimeter off can cause a large change in how in tune an instrument is. With most 'cheap' whistles, it is recommended that you try many of them to find one that's in tune. There are also websites and message boards devoted to how to tape, sand, cut, or modify these whistles to bring them into tune (known as 'tweaking'). Along with Clarkes and Generations are inexpensive whistles brands such as Oak, Soodlum, Walton, Acorn, Feadog, and Susato. Most of these can be found packaged with song and tutorial books in music stores, or at specialty shops

With the current high demand for Irish music and instruments, the modern whistle player has a greater choice of instruments than his forebears. Rather than buying a lot of cheap whistles, and learning to modify them to bring them in tune, the modern player can choose to buy a high-quality hand-crafted instrument. This leads us to "expensive" whistle, ranging anywhere from $50US to $400US (or more!), Craftsmen such as Bernard Overton, Michael Copeland, Paul Hayward, and Chris Abell make high-quality consistent instruments out of stronger metals (such as brass, nickel, or silver) or exotic hardwoods (like blackwood, coco bola, and rosewood). The price of these instruments can run the gamut from under $100US to well over $400US depending on what you buy. Some may say that these whistles lack the rustic imperfections of their traditional counterparts. To a large degree this is true, but one might wonder if those legendary greats might have bought better instruments if they were available. Indeed, many old and respected whistling legends have switched to the higher quality instruments--Mary Bergin now plays John Sindt whistles, for instance. Joanie Madden plays O'Riordan whistles, Larry Nugent plays Copelands, Paddy Keenan plays Grinters, Geraldine Cotter plays Sindts. It's easy to see that as whistles become more sophisticated, the still-living legendary players are tending to switch to the better-quality instruments. The advantage of an expensive whistle is threefold. First, you're getting a hand-crafted instrument, in which the maker has personally devoted time to voicing to ensure that the whistle is consistent and in tune. Secondly, you're getting customer service. Almost every high-end whistle craftsman that I know of has a very liberal return and repair policy. Thirdly, even the most expensive top-of-the-line whistle is cheaper than a top-of-the-line flute, bagpipe, guitar, or fiddle (all of which can cost thousands of dollars!)

For a beginner, however, a cheapie is just fine. You'll want to wait until your musical styles and tastes develop before plunking down the big bucks. Each craftsman produces whistles with a distinct sound, and until you get some practice under your belt, you may not know what sound you're looking for. Most experienced players like myself can recognize different brands of high-end whistles simply by ear. Until you know what you want, it's probably better to save your dough. Luckily, you can find decent-quality cheapies out there. The Clarke Tinwhistle Company now makes several brands of instruments. One of these is the Meg. The Meg is around $3.00US at most whistle outlets (such as The Whistle Shop or Shanna Quay Irish Books & Music. The Meg is a hybrid whistle. It has the rolled tinplate conical bore of the traditional Clarke. The mouthpiece, however, is molded plastic, but was designed by Michael Copeland. The same Michael Copeland who I list above as making many-hundred-dollar handcrafted instruments. The whistle is a bit fragile, being tinplate; you wouldn't want to sit or step on it. But at $3.00, if you did, it wouldn't be a big loss. These seem to be more in-tune than some of the other cheapies. I have an old and dented Clarke Sweetone--a slightly more expensive version of the Meg--that still gets a lot of play in my computer room.

For more information on whistles, both expensive and inexpensive, please see Chiff and Fipple. Dale Wisely, the site creator, has the most extensive list of whistle reviews out of any I have seen on the web. If you're interested in choosing a whistle, his site will help sort out the big assortment of whistles out there.


Voxel dot net
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Related Links
o highly energetic and lively dance tunes
o moving, haunting melodies
o this homemade whistle mouthpiece
o simple system flute
o was also excavated
o Robert Clarke
o Generation
o websites
o specialty shops
o Bernard Overton
o Michael Copeland
o Paul Hayward
o Chris Abell
o Mary Bergin
o The Whistle Shop
o Shanna Quay Irish Books & Music
o Chiff and Fipple
o Also by Phelan

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An introduction to Irish Tinwhistle | 48 comments (38 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
this is amazing (5.00 / 3) (#1)
by shadrack on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 11:32:10 AM EST

this is by far the best article on tinwhistles I ever ever seen in my life.

Now (none / 0) (#2)
by SanSeveroPrince on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 11:36:39 AM EST

be honest... did you know what tinwhistles were BEFORE reading the article? :)


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
For my part (none / 0) (#14)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 12:54:23 PM EST

just barely, but then I'm so non-musical that I have to get written permission to hum.

I enjoyed the article nonetheless. I know more now than I did before, and I finally found out what the hell a "fipple" is ("Fipple flute" is a common crossword clue).

Hmmm...Rusty? Can you add "fipple" to the spellchecker? Can you add "spellchecker"?

[ Parent ]

Funny you should say that ... (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by kaemaril on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 01:40:39 PM EST

This is the only article on tinwhistles I have ever seen in my life :)

Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?

[ Parent ]
this is amazing (none / 0) (#40)
by LQ on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 11:15:27 AM EST

this is by far the best article on tinwhistles I ever ever seen in my life. I think this is the only one I've ever seen on the net. And I write as the owner of about a dozen whistles in lots of different keys.

[ Parent ]
Material omission (2.11 / 17) (#6)
by streetlawyer on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 11:58:01 AM EST

I find it hard to believe that someone wrote so many words about traditional Irish music without mentioning the most important fact; that it is shit. Please remedy this omission.

My suggestion would be to change the title to "An Introduction to Looking Like A Crusty While Making a Godawful Racket on the Fucking Irish Fucking Whistle, If You Must".

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever

Wholehearted agreement -- almost.... (2.25 / 4) (#25)
by dipipanone on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 03:25:45 PM EST

While I absolutely agree with all your comments about Irish music, and how the only people who would ever be seen with a tin whistle are people begging with a dog on a string, I have to admit to being seduced by this article -- almost against my will.

Of course Irish music is absolutely crap -- not just the traditional stuff, but all Irish pop music as well -- but this managed to seduce me by it's emphasis on paraphernalia. Even though I've got no desire whatsoever for a tin whistle, I found myself reading along, thinking 'so, I could get a crap one for a couple of quid? But of course, I wouldn't want a crap one. I'd want one of the better ones. In fact, these hand made jobs by the masters of tin whistle craftsmanship do sound extremely reasonable. No way I could pick up a hand crafted guitar or piano for such a reasonable sum.'

Of course, I don't play any musical instruments at all, nor have I any desire to learn, but I feel the author deserves some latitude for managing to evoke temporary consumer-lust -- even if it was in something I've got no desire whatsoever to own.

I'd quite like a kilt though. If anyone wants to give kilts the same treatment, I'd be happy to +1 that.

Suck my .sig
[ Parent ]
Give in to your feelings.... (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Phelan on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 04:02:48 PM EST

Strike me down with a badly blown C-Sharp from your newly acquired Feadog, and your journey to the dark side will be complete!


[ Parent ]

The Pogues. (none / 0) (#39)
by blixco on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 09:41:46 AM EST


Shane McGowan will kick your ass. He's headed over there right now. Him and the Popes.
The root of the problem has been isolated.
[ Parent ]

Spelling (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by Maclir on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 03:28:30 PM EST

When referring to anything Irish, you have to spell the english word "shit" as "shite".

[ Parent ]
Not always. Variety is the spice of life :) (none / 0) (#30)
by Jel on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 04:05:11 PM EST

"Shite" has a slightly different meaning to shit, as I've always used it.  Not a different meaning on it's own, usually - the "ite" sound is used for emphasis, sometimes for repeating a term as humour without actually repeating the same words:

  "Don't talk shit.  You really are FULL of SHITE, you know that?"

Used like this, it's often possible to apply it as emphasis, too, implying some difference of degree:

  "I'm full of shite?  No.  YOU, mate, are full of complete SHIT."

...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]

Indeed (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by Simon Kinahan on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 05:11:35 PM EST

I once made a very annoying person very, very cross by referring to the system he'd writted as "pitiful shite" in a CVS comment. Apparently the VP of engineering nearly shit himself laughing when he was asked to fire me for it :)


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
wow..Bill G puts his stuff in CVS?? ;) (nt) (none / 0) (#33)
by Jel on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 05:54:53 PM EST

...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]
More beef to Beef (5.00 / 3) (#7)
by Torgos Pizza on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 12:06:13 PM EST

W.H. Stepp played "Bonaparte's Retreat" for Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in Salyersville, Kentucky, in October 1937. Ruth Seeger transcribed the performance, and it was included in the Lomax's "Our Singing Century", where Aaron Copland found it while looking for traditional material for his ballet "Rodeo" in 1942. Copland orchestrated it almost note-for-note for the Hoe-Down section of the ballet.

While Rodeo doesn't have any haunting tinwhistle themes, the music does have a basis in it. I highly recommend personal investigation in Aaron Copland's work. As Stravinsky once said, "Why call Copland a great American composer? He's a great composer."

I intend to live forever, or die trying.

My Tinwhistles (5.00 / 2) (#15)
by gauntlet on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 01:04:35 PM EST

I picked up a sweettones C a few months ago. I honestly don't like it much at all. The main problem that I have with it is that there is a small range of breath pressure that will accurately produce the low notes on the second octave, and I get the feeling that trying to play C in the upper octave actually requires less breath than playing B in the lower one. I don't know if it's something with my whistle, or what. Also, I have found that there is a great deal of "white" breath noise when playing higher notes. Other whistles I've played don't have that. Also, I've found that cutting low notes in the high octave gives a terrible squawk unless the top finger is lifted, which is frustrating when you're used to playing whistles that provide more flexibility in fingering. Obviously, I wouldn't buy another one.

I'm fond of the cylindrical whistles, myself. The fingering feels more secure to me, probably because I have large fingers. The labels have been so long removed from all the whistles I play (I've had them since I was a kid) that I really don't know what brand they are. They are copper coloured with green mouthpieces, and something on the surface of the cylindar rubs off with use.

Chiff and Fipple is a good web site for them. I can also recommend Brother Steve's. Steve's is a good site particularly if you're trying to learn to play with a more authentic style.

Into Canadian Politics?

What about making them? (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by graal on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 01:07:40 PM EST

There are many websites out there that contain instructions for making tin whistles. If you have some scraps around, you could probably make one for even less than $3.

I know I could never make something as well as the craftsmen you mention in the article, but what the hell.

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)

Making Whistles (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by Phelan on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 08:34:23 AM EST

I got the plans to a couple whistles off of the internet, and ended up combining features. It cost me about $5.00 at Home Depot get enough material to make approximately 10 whistles.

I made two whistles. Each one took me approximately 8 hours to make, to get the fipple right (the hardest part). And they looked like a drunken monkey made them. But at least they were in tune! *g* I came away from the experience with a new respect for whistle craftsmen. It'd take a lot of practice (not to mention the cash outlay for some expensive hardware) before one could come close to producing a quality whistle for $3.00.

[ Parent ]

NINA (2.68 / 16) (#18)
by Steve Ballmer on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 01:53:22 PM EST

When I think of Ireland I think a lot of colorful Irish expressions like, "Top of the morning to ya," "Kiss the barney stone," "May the road rise to meet ya," "May you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you're dead," "I'd like to smash you in the face with my shalalee," "Danny-boy," "Bhagora," "Wail of the banshee," and "Whiskey for the leprechauns, whisky for the leprechauns." But the expression I think most people identify with the Irish, is, of course, the luck of the Irish.

The luck of the Irish. Sure. Let's say you're in a pub somewhere in Ireland, oh, anywhere in Ireland, some guy comes up to you and says, "Hey is that a bomb on you I hear ticking?" And then BAM!!! Your small intestines are on the ceiling and your brains are on your car across the street. That's the luck of the Irish for ya, who's kidding who, okay?

Let's talk about the bad luck of the Irish, all right? How about this, POTATO FAMINE!! How about that? It scares them, doesn't it? Well it should. That's why they came here in the first place. So they wouldn't have to work in the potato fields. That's why they became politicians, priests, and cops. Luck? Gimme a break.

I got a friend, his name is Dan Sullivan, he's Irish as they come. We used to drink together a lot. After two drinks, he would look like an Irish pirate. You know? You think he had luck? In one day he got his car stolen, and the stupid, he had no insurance, and no license, and he gets locked up for being drunk. And after that, he takes off for someplace like India or Nepal, or someplace like that. And his mother dies, ya know, so they wire him to tell him to come to the funeral. It's his mother's funeral, that's all. And he's in India or Nepal, sitting squat-legged listening to some sacred cow. So he comes back and he gets stopped at U.S. Customs for trafficking illegal drugs, not holding, he's trafficking. I mean, here's this guy Sullivan, his old lady kicks off, he gets popped at the border and he's sitting on fifty pounds of black Tibetan finger hash and two keys of slam. Now that's not bad luck, that's DUMB luck. I don't think luck has anything to do with it, I don't think he has any brains at all. First of all, he's drunk, then he's a junkie. I don't know what's worse. Don't ask me, ask Sullivan. And what happens? He calls me up and says, "Hey man, I got busted at the border. I need five grand bail." I said, I said, "Five grand man!? Hey man, I've never even seen five thousand dollars in my life, so don't ask me for it, man, why don't you ask your mother!!" Which was a dumb thing for me to say because his mother just died. Right now, I got this drunken Irish junkie who wants to kill me because of what I said about his mother being in terminal dreamland. Oh pal. One thing! One thing!!! They love their mothers, boy, oh they love their mothers. It's momma this, momma that. Oh my Irish mother! Ireland must be heaven, because my mother.. aauugghhh! Aaauugghhh!!!

WTF? (none / 0) (#19)
by The Private Fedora on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 02:05:57 PM EST

no text

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?"
Patrick Henry, The War Inevitable, March 23, 1775
[ Parent ]
It's an old SNL bit (none / 0) (#20)
by Armaphine on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 02:35:08 PM EST

John Belushi did this bit on an old St. Patrick's Day episode of Saturday Night Live. It's usually a favorite sound bit of radio stations around St. Patty's Day, and is often included in any of the old retrospectives on John Belushi.

Question authority. Don't ask why, just do it.
[ Parent ]

Open mouth, insert foot (none / 0) (#21)
by The Private Fedora on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 02:48:11 PM EST

I must admit I've never heard this one. Makes a little more sense now.

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?"
Patrick Henry, The War Inevitable, March 23, 1775
[ Parent ]
It's "Paddy", not "Patty" :) (none / 0) (#38)
by trailside on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 08:47:28 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Interesting article. More details!! (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by Jel on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 02:59:44 PM EST

This is interesting for me. I recently bought a Dizi (Chinese transverse flute) to learn.  Simple flutes seem to be much more flexible than things like recorders.  I guess because there isn't really a shaped mouthpiece, and you can blow in different ways, etc.

Unfortunately, the only tutorials I've been able to afford are also in Chinese, and very little is explained on the web.  I'd love a good guide to Dizi, or just simple flutes in general.

If someone could explain all the major differences (I'm aware of a few) between dizi and simple western flutes, that would be really interesting, too.  Especially if it was enough to allow the use of western tutorials or sheet music with a Dizi.

Sources of Dizi membranes in the UK would be real helpful, too.  Dizi, by the way, are a little special, since they have an extra hole which you don't finger, but cover with a membrane to create a unique sound, or seal, to get a normal bamboo flute.
...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon

getting dizzy ;) (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by Phelan on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 03:18:59 PM EST

I have a jade dizi my wife got me for our anniversary one year. It came with a membrane, but I don't really know much about them.

I taped my membrane hole totally closed, and the thing behaves just like a six-holed simple system flute. If you use a nomal membrane, you get that asian-sounding buzzing in your music.

However, I've read that it's traditional to use bamboo pith, affixed with a little garlic juice as a membrane. Really.

[ Parent ]

Jade dizi... Beautiful! (none / 0) (#27)
by Jel on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 03:43:00 PM EST

I have a jade dizi my wife got me for our anniversary one year. It came with a membrane, but I don't really know much about them.

Yes, I was looking at those.  Very nice.  You might hunt down some dizi music on the web (or gnutella :)  - it seems very versatile.  Especially with all the Chinese playing techniques applied, etc.  Very expressive.  I just wish I was a musician already.  But I'll get there :)

I think I'll keep that idea as a carrot -- if I can really learn to play it, then I'll let myself buy a jade one :))

Any idea how it plays compared to the bamboo versions?

However, I've read that it's traditional to use bamboo pith, affixed with a little garlic juice as a membrane. Really.

Yep, that's right.  Not juice, exactly, though, just crush a clove, mix it pretty thick, and spread it around the hole.  Then apply the membrane tightly, and allow about 10mins to dry before playing.  At least, that's what I heard.

...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]

jade vs bamboo (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by Phelan on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 03:51:08 PM EST

The jade dizi I got was from Lark in the Morning, and really is a beatiful instrument, with a chinese dragon hand-carved around it's entire length. The endcaps (decorative only) look to me to be malachite (another green stone), though...not jade.

It's hard for me to compare the jade dizi with the bamboo ones...I've never really listened to much dizi music. I do know the jade one I have has a rich, resonating sound, and is in tune, when I play it like a traditional simple-system flute.

It's a nice instrument, but it's mostly for the mantle-piece. Jade is a brittle stone, and dropping this beauty just once would break it, and my wife's heart.

[ Parent ]

thanks for the pointer (none / 0) (#32)
by Jel on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 05:51:22 PM EST

Thanks for the link.  They seem like good suppliers.  Wise decision on keeping the Dizi as an ornament, I suppose.  Look after that wife of yours, too -- sounds like a real nice girl.  Hell, I need someone there to make you write another article in this series :^)
...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]
Another article (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by Phelan on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 08:22:12 PM EST

Well, I was originally going to write 2, or at most 3 articles...but I'm really not sure if there's a demand for it. One article is novel..but I don't really think enough people are interested enough for a 2nd. I'd certainly hate to go the route of Die Hard of Planet of the Apes...each sequel getting worse and worse ;)

[ Parent ]
worldwide culturism (none / 0) (#43)
by shrubbery on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:29:16 PM EST

I was just thinking how funny it is. Your in the UK making you English most likely (no offense) and learning a Chinese flute. I'm Chinese-American and I'm learning Irish fiddle. Who would of thought that 100 years ago?

[ Parent ]
We need more of that (none / 0) (#45)
by Jel on Fri Aug 02, 2002 at 08:25:54 AM EST

Yep, I'm aware of the irony :).  And, actually, I'm in Northern Ireland :^)

I deliberately avoided the tin whistle because it is associated with marching bands here, and hence with a certain amount of violence and intolerance.  Because of that, it would probably trouble me greatly to have one sitting on my shelf.

But that's just me.  This article has done something to increase my appreciation of them.  And, regardless of local associations, it's great to hear that they're appreciated elsewhere, in a more artistic way.

You'll be glad to hear that fiddles have no such strong associations that I can think of.  Just good, traditional folk music :)

You're entirely right that we've come a long way in the last hundred years, and I hope to see things progress a lot further, too.

...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]

Excellent article. Please consider (none / 0) (#35)
by sebpaquet on Wed Jul 31, 2002 at 08:36:40 PM EST

contributing a copy of it to the Wikipedia!
Seb's Open Research - Pointers and thoughts on the evolution of knowledge sharing and scholarly communication.
Wikipedia (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by Phelan on Fri Aug 02, 2002 at 10:49:14 AM EST

After seeing this, I looked and found a tinwhistle article already on Wikipedia, that actually coveres much of the same ground. It's actually quite scary how similar it is, considering I wrote my article 'in a vaccuum' using only my own knowledge, memory, and experience as a primary resource.

I may consider updating the wiki article with the information I have here after I have time to review the submission procedures and the like.

[ Parent ]

Irish Music in the film Titanic (none / 0) (#36)
by digitalmedievalist on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:05:20 AM EST

Phelan wrote:
As anyone who has seen the move The Titanic can attest, the movie is full of flowing melodies that evoke the feeling of the rolling green hills of Ireland. What they may not know, however, is that most of this music was recorded on the lowly tinwhistle.
The traditional Irish band featured in Titanic, playing in steerage and whose music is used in the background, is Gaelic Storm. They have three albums out, and their web site is www.gaelicstorm.com.

Believe it or not (none / 0) (#41)
by d s oliver h on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 11:59:27 AM EST

I took lessons on the tin whistle as a child, as my mum wanted me to play traditional Irish music but couldn't afford an accordion. I can still play some old Irish tunes.

excellent piece (some more background too) (none / 0) (#42)
by shrubbery on Thu Aug 01, 2002 at 12:17:17 PM EST

I love to listen to the aul fiddley diddley as its called. I'm also a newbie fiddle player thats scratching my way to competenance *grins*. Hopefully, I can find a decent teacher before everyone's ears bleed.

As the tin whistle has been making a comeback, a lot of traditional artists moved their craft to the Boehm flute, the complex metal flute you see in orchestras. It's why in alot of modern traditional bands use the Boehm flute instead of the tin whistle. Though there a good number of tin whistle players now repopulating the music.

I wrote up an interesting point on another site regarding traditional Irish music in Titanic. The music you hear today is nothing like what you would of heard say.. a hundred years ago. Its why the Titantic scene is historically inaccurate. Its actually a pretty fascinating way to illustrate how even the most conservative of music, ie folk music like this, changes. For one, if you pick up a modern traditional fiddly diddly band album, you'll hear complex arrangements of traditional music. Or if you pick up say, the Braveheart soundtrack you'll hear epic Celtic tinged music. This type of music is the genius of one mighty Corkman (g'wan biy!) Sean O'Riada, one of Ireland's most important composers.

Sean O'Riada believed that the traditional Irish music should not just be accompianment to dancing which is what it was before 1960 or so. You had your ceili bands which were made up of insterments like fiddle, piano, snare drum, flute etc. But most of the truly traditional players were in rural Ireland who played insterments like the box accordian, the fiddle of course, the whistle, bozouka, bodhran, among others. It was O'Riada who brought these men out from the bogs and fused it with folk and jazz mentalities. Listen to a modern traditional Irish band and you'll hear things like counterpoint and fairly complex harmonies. That's why the scene in Titanic is inaccurate, the style they play wasn't even invented until the 1960s! Before then, it would of been a ceili band or solo rural-born players that seldom played together. It was from his compositions that sprung that epic, new agey Celtic-tinged sound you hear in movie soundtracks as well.

On another subject, fiddle player has a huge variety of styles and I would surmise that the whistle does as well. These styles seem to transcend insterment. You have your warpspeed paced, sticatto Scottish influenced Donegalers from the North. The emigrants from Sligo and their well documented light, airy yet fast style. Your wistful and very ornate Galway players. And your nice and laid back Clare players which prefer the reels. For such a small country, there is a lot of variety in the music. Sadly, a lot of these styles have overlapped due to modern communication and influence. When the country was isolated, you could really hear the differences.

Gaelic Storm (none / 0) (#46)
by The Private Fedora on Fri Aug 02, 2002 at 09:52:59 AM EST

The band featured in Titanic was Gaelic Storm. They are definitely a modern Irish band, in the sense of their harmony and jazz influences. Their latest album, Tree, has a lot of modernized whistle-playing in it, especially track 10, "Thirsty Work".

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?"
Patrick Henry, The War Inevitable, March 23, 1775
[ Parent ]
want some great Irish music? (none / 0) (#44)
by tuj on Fri Aug 02, 2002 at 12:51:56 AM EST

Check out: http://www.thegaels.com/

If you're in Minnesota or the surrounding area you might have a chance to see them live.  They are outstanding.  And yes, they do use tin whistles.  

nose flutes (none / 0) (#48)
by geoswan on Tue Aug 06, 2002 at 12:19:01 AM EST

The original author refers to "whistling Billy", a 19th century tin-whistle player, who is reputed to have been able to play through his nose.

There is a talented musician named Glenn Soulis, well-known in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, who plays a very spirited nose flute. In fact he sticks one flute up each nostril, and plays in stereo. He has to be heard to be believed.

An introduction to Irish Tinwhistle | 48 comments (38 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
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