December 16, 2004
Chiff & Fipple: You Play With the Whistle You Have, Not the Whistle You Want
Whew. This issue is late. Tardiness is beginning to be a habit of mine. The good news is, it shouldn't be long at all before the NEXT issue, because senior Chiff & Fipple correspondent Jessie Driscoll has put together the bulk of a full issue of the newsletter, but I have to take some time to format and get it ready.
By now, many of you have heard of the somewhat tense Q&A session I conducted with Chiff & Fipple members at our recent convention in Greenland. The mistake I made was inviting people to ask me tough questions. The mistake they made was thinking I was, like, serious. Excerpt:
Q: I'm Frank Wilson, a whistle player from Des Moines, Iowa. Could you explain to us why us common whistlers are having to dig around and play inexpensive and beat-up whistles while you play from your extensive collection of hand-crafted whistles made from precious metals?
Dale: As you know, you play the whistle you have, not the whistle you want.
Q: Oh. Ok. Great.
Dale: And, you know, even if you have a fine, handcrafted whistle made of precious metals, the thing may still not play well.
A: Right. Thank you, sir.
Q: Sir, I'm Margaret O'Rourke. I play the whistle in a semi-professional Irish-American band outside of Chicago and I was wondering why we have to wait so long on new issues of Chiff & Fipple. When we subscribed, we understood we would only have to wait a couple of weeks and now it seems like a couple of months, and then another couple of months....
A: Well, there, Missy. As you know, the contract you signed has some fine print in it that allows us to put out newsletters anytime we darn well please. Sorry.
Hi. I'm Dale Wisely and this is 6 Hole Theory.
I. A reflection on Christmas music in three parts.
Cherish the Ladies' latest CD, On Christmas Night, is getting some nice press. Notably, Jon Pareles, writing in the New York Times:
"The Little Drummer Boy" plays the Irish bodhran when the traditionalist group Cherish the Ladies takes up the holiday repertory with "On Christmas Night." The album weaves minisuites of carols, jigs and reels. Piano often makes the arrangements sound like a parlor gathering, and the women add plenty of Celtic touches to familiar songs. It's a cozy album that becomes luminous whenever Heidi Talbot sings, in a voice that's both awestruck and tender.
The good news is that Pareles includes it in his five most memorable Christmas CDs of the year. The bad news it that the list also includes "A John Water's Christmas." I kid you not.
Joanie Madden (L) and John Waters (R)
Joanie gave me a copy of this lovely CD when we saw them in Atlanta in March 2003 (that's what I call an advance copy). It's terrific..and that's coming from a man who is very discriminating in his Christmas music. (Me, I'm talking about me.) I just get quickly tired of Christmas music. I think it has something to do with the fact that they start playing the stuff in stores in OCTOBER!
Anyway, one of the things that makes this CD so seasonally indispensable to me is that while there is a scattering of very familiar Christmas tunes here, we also get a wonderful collection of Holiday-themed traditional tunes mixed in. And, even the familiar tunes are arranged in fresh ways, entirely consistent with the Irish tradition.
By the way, I despise the commercialization of Christmas.
Surely in the rotation of songs played this time of the year, one of the strangest is the duet vocal of "The Little Drummer Boy" by Bing Crosby and .... David Bowie.
Bing Crosby (L) and David Bowie (R)
Perhaps you know this story. In 1977, shortly before Crosby's death, on his, like 67th annual Christmas special, appears as a guest David Bowie, who, mercifully, looked almost normal. Crosby could not possibly have had the slightest clue who he was. They stand together on a Yuletide set, exchange some silly scripted banter, and then do the classic Christmas song. Even more shocking than this pairing was that the performance was, well, stunningly beautiful. Crosby dutifully sang the song everyone was accustomed to hearing, along with the whole rump-a-pum-pum thing. Over this, Bowie sang a melodically and lyrically beautiful new part, evidently in response to Bowie's protest that the song did not match his voice particularly well. It was a weird and wonderful moment. Crosby passed away a month later and never saw the tape.
Bing Crosby (L) and David Bowie (R)
Now comes our friend El McMeen with a new collection of Christmas songs for finger-style solo acoustic guitar, The Soul of Christmas Guitar. I've been begging the El-less to get El-ed Up for years now and here's another chance for the holidays, people. I'm not alone in my slobbering fanhood of Mr. McMeen. El McMeen was selected by the International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, England, as an International Musician of the Year 2003. He was one of only 200 musicians world-wide so honored. These Cambridge dudes want you El-ed up, too.
El is such a fine guitarist, and such an amazing arranger, that he is able to do what I regard as so improbable--make familiar Christmas music sound so fresh. The warmth and intimacy of this record is phenomenal. Here's the track listing:
- Angels We Have Heard on High
- In the Bleak Midwinter
- Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella
- Away in a Manger
- The First Noel/Go Tell It on the Mountain
- Silent Night
- What Child is This? (Greensleeves)
- Once in Royal David's City/We Three Kings
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
- Good King Wenceslas
- Sleepy Little Town
- Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Among the standouts (against a field of standouts) are the renditions of Greensleeves, In the Bleak Midwinter, and Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. The latter is a favorite of El's and his performance is flawless and heartbreaking. And, I'm proud to say that the CD closes with Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, my favorite of all hymns, to which I introduced El.
Best place to buy this CD is directly from El McMeen's website at http://www.elmcmeen.com
II. THIS MONTH'S FAVORITE NAME FOR A James Brown SONGTM Christmas Edition.
"Clean for Christmas"
"Funky Christmas Millennium
James Brown (L) and El McMeen (R)
III. We Dig Newbies: A Beginner Goes Burke-o-Phonic!
Here is something worth telling new whistlers who are window shopping for a instrument to learn on. I'm a new whistle player (less than 4 months). I was learning with a Freeman Tweaked Shaw. The Shaw is a good whistle for the price and allowed me to discover I really wanted to learn more. It was time for me to invest in a better instrument. I bought a Burke D Aluminum Pro Narrow Bore.
Once I got used to the different breath requirement on the D Aluminum Pro Narrow Bore my learning curve went way up. The "DAN" is absolutely a great whistle to learn on (and so nice of Michael Burke to name it after me). Just a little discipline and it's easy to control the breaks between octaves. The voice is firm in the low octave, and sweet and pure in the high octave. Also important - it's not too loud to drive my house mates crazy while I'm stumbling through a new tune. It's a wonderful whistle that makes learning very enjoyable.
A Burke D Composite Session whistle is next for me, then a low D - maybe someone will get it for me as a Christmas gift.
IV. NEW GUY AT FEADOG
My name is Paul McCarron and I have started work with Feadóg "Original Irish Whistle". As you may know already, Feadóg is the oldest commercially produced tin whistle in Ireland. We make whistles in the key of D and C in a number of different finishes (Brass, Nickel and Assorted Colours). We are endorsed by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, who promote Irish music at home and abroad, and Rob Ó'Geíbheannaigh, renowned session musician and whistle player for Sinead O'Connor, among many others. We are delighted to have received some very favourable comments from Karen Ennis of the famed Canadian group, The Ennis Sisters. Please find Karen's comments attached.
We have also recently launched our own website, www.feadog.ie. We have been receiving very favourable comments from many people about the site. I have already put a link up to the Chiff & Fipple website as I believe it is the best whistle related site on the net. I would be delighted to hear any comments you may have about the Feadóg site. Also I would like to discuss with you the possibility of announcing the launch of the site on the C & F message board.
On the product development side we have also a bit of news. We have developed a nickel whistle with a heavier barrel, with the more professional musician in mind. It is called the Feadóg Pro D.
(I've received one and will review it later in Chiff & Fipple)
Feadóg "Original Irish Whistle"
Tel: +353 1 456 9533
Fax: +353 1 456 9535
Paul Busman recently made four whistles out of snakewood. I think they are all spoken for and he doesn't plan to make more--evidently this wood is hard to work with. But, ain't they beautiful?
Snakewood (L) and Woodsnake (R)
collage by D.Wisely
Right Hand Pointing
Edited by Dale Wisely
Short Poems, Short Fiction, Short Commentary for
Smart People with Short Attention Spans
Three issues now on-line. Issue 4 due this month.
VI. From Norman Dannatt of Clarke Tinwhistle
Here's a nice little story for you:-
On the 22nd December May Cuthill (née Clark) will celebrate her 100th birthday.
She is a descendant of Robert Clarke the inventor of the tinwhistle.
Tomorrow I am going to the Tinwhistle Factory with a specially
prepared birthday card and I'll get all the Merry Whistlers down there
to sign it. Inside the card is a photo of her distinguished ancestor
with his wife Sarah. Then I'll send the card together with a
Pennywhistle tied up with a festive bow.
This has been all arranged with her son Ian Cuthill. Ian is a bassoon
player and professor of bassoon at the Guildhall School of Music.
When the film "Tombstone" was being made Ian was engaged to play in
the orchestra that was recorded for the background music. Sitting
next to him was a flute player, Adrian Brett, who found that he had a
part for tinwhistle in the score. He produced an old battered
Pennywhistle that he avowed still played magnificently with that well
known Clarke sound.
Ian Cuthill and his wife have, just a few days ago, produced a new
scion for the Clarke family tree - a baby named Mark.
Next Sunday Ian is playing in the Albert Hall, dressed in the costume
that 18th Century musicians wore, for a performance of "The Messiah".
(I don't think there is a part for tinwhistle in that score!)
Norman Dannatt (L) and Norman Mailer (R)
VII. People Who, So Far As We Know, Never Played the TinwhistleTM
Robert Mitchum (1917-1997)
Please find attached a picture of Robert Mitchum playing the whistle.
Even from the grave, Robert Mitchum continues to taunt me.
IX. Also from Norman Dannatt
Norman sent this drawing to me one Christmas some years ago, and 'tis the season....
Have a lovely holiday season!
Santa Claus (L) and Donald Trump (R)
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Donald Rumsfeld (L) and an earwig (R)
Lord, help us see how near is your kingdom.