July 05, 2004
Chiff & Fipple Transfers Powers 3 Days Late
This month, July 14 to be precise, marks the 25th anniversary of my wedding to Marilyn Alice Hunter, who remains my one and only wife--and best friend--to this day. Marrying The Mrs. Undisputed remains to this day the smartest thing I ever did, not to mention the best stroke of luck and/or Blessing From the Almighty. She is ever-patient and has not only put up with Chiff & Fipple, but has taken pleasure in my pleasure with this community--the mark of a true soul mate. We also have raised three fine, gifted, and good-hearted human beings. This issue of Chiff & Fipple is dedicated to Marilyn Wisely.
Enjoy the issue--
Wiselys 2004. From Left: Dale, Angela, Marilyn, Sarah, & Claire
I. THE BEST WHISTLE REVIEW EVER WRITTEN: L.E. McCullough on the Michael Burke Aluminum D Whistle
L. E. McCullough writes:
It is possible there are some people yet roaming about in our world who think the tinwhistle is a small, insignificant thing. Something of little consequence or value in the larger scheme of life.
They are wrong. And having the right tinwhistle for the right occasion is no trifling matter. Sometimes the right tinwhistle can save your sanity. And be a bonafide Public Boon.
Here's L.E., holding a Burke D whistle. No. Wait a minute....
Earlier this month I was about to perform at an outdoor festival in a small Pennsylvania town, both to remain un-named here. The scene was dismal: meager, passive crowd, bad food, rain on the darkening horizon, a score of small children running amok in front of the stage screaming and pounding each other with large rubber mallets distributed by some mischievous vendor as some sort of “heritage” artifact.
Then it got worse. The show was running late, so of necessity the soundcheck was abrupt, hurried and cursory, monitors simultaneously howling and groaning in both treble and bass registers. As I attempted to let the soundman know of the state of the sound, he suddenly waved his arms, pointed his fingers at me with a bang-bang pistol gesture, and shouted across the field to “Stop!" and shut up -- the implication being that any more communication from musicians onstage would incur even worse sound.
Whatever. After three-and-a-half decades of playing music to live audiences in all sorts of venues, you become inured to the minor indignities of the trade. You're getting paid, you're providing a service, just do the show, entertain the audience, pretend everything's groovy, smile, make your exit, don't take anything personally, no matter how insulting or absurd. But being ordered silent in front of a live audience by a stupendously incompetent soundman (who allegedly taught Audio Science at a local institution of higher learning). . . Wow. That was a first in this musician's professional career.
I'd like to report that, as the performance got underway, the sound system improved. Nope. Got worse. Crowd? Got worse. There wasn't anything to do but just gut it out and play, using time-tested Zen mind-control techniques of projecting oneself somewhere very far away. As it came time for my entrance into the first medley, I picked up the new whistle I'd received recently from Michael Burke, a bright, shining aluminum D. I had planned to give it an official Onstage Premiere with a bit of hoopla that night, maybe a champagne or Guinness toast, but now the moment seemed vastly less auspicious. Still, it's showtime, just play.
Within seconds I knew this tinwhistle was going to save my sanity that night and, possibly, my life. The sound cut through the humid, globby air with the clarity of a silver bell ringing across an Alpine mountain valley. Within a minute of playing the Burke aluminum D, I felt certain I was going to make some great music that set, ambient horrorshow and sound trolls be damned.
From the very first phrase, it sang out strong and impeccably in tune. Curiously, though the overall band sound inflicted upon the audience was dreadful, the five of us playing onstage could hear each other fairly well, the effect like that of playing in a metallic storage bin. . . the rest of the obnoxious world beyond the footlights mercifully vanished, and we heard only ourselves. The whistle was light, easy to grip, with the weight well-balanced along the entire tube, not top-heavy or over-bulked. It fingered
The mighty Burke Aluminum D. Photo by Dale.
effortlessly -- each roll easily executed, crisply cut and cleanly nuanced, every slide smooth and true. The timbre had good full body, no rasp, no dropout. . . it soared into the upper octave. . . reaching for the high B, the note sounded instantly without hesitation or resistance. The C natural, sheer ecstasy, and the C# and 3rd-octave D were solid as well. This whistle was a thing of sweetness and beauty, sturdy yet agile. Notes were leaping out of my fingers, dancing off my tongue with elfin glee. . .
But now we were headed for the treacherous falls.
The final test for me on any whistle is the top D roll. . . could I get a clean roll, and how much effort would it take to get it? Sometimes the mental energy in setting for the ornament, visualizing it, so to speak, is more taxing than the actual fingering. The tune was "Toss the Feathers" in D modal. . . on the B part, 1st measure, I hit the top D roll three times (A~d3 A~d3 | A~d3 e~d3). . . It purred. Clicked like tumblers in a safe lock, everything snapping into place.
Then I defied both Nature and Reason. In the split-second between the last note of the eighth bar 1st-time through -- no, maybe even as I played the first note of the repeat -- some rebellious seed entered my conscious mind, and I played: A~d3 ~d2~d2 | ~d2~d2 ~d2cd | . . . five short rolls exploding out of the whistle with staccato ferocity.
It was surreal. Every part of the phrase concisely articulated, every element as perfectly edged as a cut diamond. . . a melodic passage I hadn't even thought to play until it willed itself into existence like some lurking doppelganger waiting its chance to burst forth from the unconscious. I wondered: could another whistle have had the same ability to summon this music forth at such a time in such a manner?
I can't remember much about the rest of the night. The sound system kept
sucking, the audience kept dwindling, the children kept rampaging. . . I was oblivious, floating above the mortal fray, lost in this new Burke aluminum D, enveloped in its blissful purity of sweep, its elegant swift carriage of lightness and power.
I have been asked if I endorse this tinwhistle. Yea, verily, I surrender to it!
L.E. McCullough is an American tinwhistle legend. He has many other talents including, uh, writing. If you enjoyed this piece, you'll also enjoy this one. His website is right here and Mike Burke's is right here.
II. PUNY TUNES
I was wondering if you would be so kind as to let your Chiff & Fipple subscribers know that earlier this year I bought the Puny Tune business from Bryan Mumford, and that I am currently producing them and taking orders. For a limited time, Puny Tunes can be had for the re-introductory price of twenty U.S. dollars, plus the cost of shipping (and tax for West Virginia residents). They look and sound identical to the Puny Tunes that Bryan use to make, but I'm making them with the standard four hole English-style ocarina fingering system. They are available in maple, cherry or walnut, and come with a neck cord, playing guide and drawstring carrying pouch. My contact information is:
Puny Tunes "the wee whistle"
P.O. Box 156
Green Bank, WV 24944
1-866-70TUNES (toll free)
Thanks in advance!
The Plaid Piper
III. Whistle Mysteries of the universeMatthew Bychowski wrote:The "other" burial mask of King Tutankhamen, relatively unknown to... well, to those who just don't know about it. Evidence of an ancient civilization of die-hard tin-whistlers? A clever hoax? A Chiff-and-Fippler with Photoshop and too much time? You decide.
Note the interesting arrangement of circles! Thanks to Dana (http://www.danamania.com)
IV. WHO'S RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?
I currently own a variety of whistles 1) Howard Low C, 2) Chieftain D, 3) Alba D, 4)Clarke D, 5) Walton Little Black Whistle D, 6) Susato Low D and then this unknown whistle. I have attached a picture, but will try describe it. It is black, 22.5" in length from beak to end. It breaks down into three pieces..mouth piece, then slightly after G. It is made of a heavy black poly material. The sound is fantastic. It is tunable and has a brass insert where the mouth piece fits the body. At first it looked like a Bingamon, but I wrote Daniel and he said he has never produced a whistle with a brass insert. Any clarity to who produced this whistle would be greatly appreciated.
Here are the photos. Keith says there are no markings of any kind. He purchased it from another individual who didn't know who made it. Anybody recognize it?
V. Sweet whistle - Professional model by walt sweet
Ralph Sweet is a pioneering instrument maker who has made whistles for a long time. He makes gorgeous wooden whistles and flutes. For a long time, his whistles have been somewhat controversial because they have resembled recorders both in overall look and in sound. Now there is a new model and some other interesting products.
- First of all, there's the new Professional Model ($135), designed by Ralph's son Walter. It's made out of a laminated wood with the trademark "Dynmondwood." It looks like rosewood. It has a conical bore and a new windway design. There's a nice cork joint which allows for a bit of tuning. On their website, Walt (I presume writes): This new whistle plays like a dream! Tone quality is sweeter, response more even - more controlled on the top notes, while strong on the bottom. Can even play 3rd octave notes without injuring eardrums!
I got one of these recently and I have to say I agree. I've had trouble putting the thing down. The sound is more whistle-like that Ralph's traditional model. It falls in the family of "round-toned" whistles. It also feels great in the hands, a quality I can't quite put, uh, my finger on. But I put it down and I pick it up again.
At $135, it's an investment. But I think it's a fair price. There's also an optional fifehead for this instrument ($50). Cool.
There's a very fine and thorough review of this whistle on the message board at
- Ralph also makes a Killhoury model whistle, which is available with optional keywork. These cost $275-$425 depending on the keywork.
- And the standard Sweet whistle is still available ($95) but apparently now only in C.
Ralph's website is http://www.sweetheartflute.com
VI. Chiff & fipple gives to unicef
NOTE: 100% of all profits on sales in the month of July will be donated to
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
Lots of new merchandise at Chiff & Fipple's shop!
Value T-Shirt $9.99 (above)
NOTE: 100% of all profits on sales in the month of July will be donated to
VII. NEW SUMMER INTERNS AT CHIFF & FIPPLE
VIII. EATING ALUMINUM: GOOD OR BAD?
Once in awhile, a debate springs up on the Chiff & Fipple Message Board about whether there are any negative health effects from putting aluminum whistles in your mouth. This prompted me to write a letter to the good people at Kellogg's. I pitched the product pictured below. So far, I've not heard back from them.
VII. New: Which of these politicians is most likely to play the whistle??
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards
Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden
Former Georgia senator Sam Nunn.
Stay tuned for another episode of Which of these politicians is most likely to play the whistle?(A Quinn-Martin Production)
Chiff & Fipple is a production of the North Central Alabama Home Gorilla Breeding Association, in association with Red Wolverine Enterprises, and 3Fish Productions. Our privacy statement is now online.
Having trouble with your whistle? Call Amy at Chiff & Fipple customer service.
Lord, help us see how near is your kingdom.