April 19, 2002
Phineas Gage: The Next Generation
I. THE CHIFF & FIPPLE GREETING
Yikes-a-hooty have I ever been busy. Really busy. Busier than Robert Blake's lawyers. I went out of town this week for a couple of days to attend a workshop. That got me further behind. Busy. I tell you this for one reason only--so you will appreciate the sacrifices I make to take a few minutes out on a Friday night to order interns around so that this issue will get into your hands. Well, not your hands because it's the Internet. Into your eyes and into your brains. More about your brains later.
II.TO BOLDLY GO...
(WHICH I ALWAYS THOUGHT NEEDED TO BE TO GO BOLDLY TO AVOID THE SPLIT INFINITIVE BUT HEY, WHAT AM I, AN ENGLISH TEACHER?)
Another great whistle mystery is solved....................
The Picard Whistle
This is one of the most enduring of the great tinwhistle mysteries. Since I started Chiff & Fipple, around 1996, I had countless questions about two episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION in which Captain Picard is depicted playing a tinwhistle. (For some details about these episodes, see Geert Bonte's excellent website on the music of Star Trek: The Ressikan Flute.) Among the questions:
Is Patrick Stewart actually playing the whistle?
If not, who is?
What kind of whistle is that?
Most people have assumed that Patrick Stewart was not playing the whistle but was, well, finger-syncing. No one, to date, had been able to identify the musician. The identify of the whistle is equally mystifying. Various photos of what was alleged to be "the" whistle Stewart appears to be playing have popped up (there is too much variety in appearance among these to know which, if any, is the authentic article).
There has been an embarrassing volume of discussion about these questions on the Internet. Until recently (April 2002), I've been unable to get definitive answers to these questions.
In March 2002, I wrote an issue of the Chiff & Fipple newsletter (and a corresponding website) summarizing this and other whistle mysteries. Many of my learned readers went to work, and tremendous progress has been made in solving some of these. The big break in the Star Trek mystery came by way of the dedication and tireless efforts of Chiff & Fipple subscriber Michael O'Donovan. Michael has played bassoon with numerous orchestras and chamber music groups in the United States, Mexico, and Europe, including principal bassoon with the San Francisco Symphony. For the last twenty-five years he has been a studio musician in Los Angeles, and has played on hundreds of motion picture soundtracks; he has lately embarked on a quixotic attempt to learn the uilleann pipes and whistle. Here is email from Michael, which I've edited and combined here, with the answers:
....I asked around and found out that the music for the two episodes in question was written by Jay Chattaway ... and it was a fairly simple matter to get in touch with wind players who regularly work for him. One of these guys, Fred Selden, remembered scoring the episodes, and furnished this information: in one of the two episodes, the whistle was played by
Brice Martin, and in the other the whistle duties were shared by Brice and Fred himself. It is Fred's recollection that in the episode in which Brice did all the playing, it was actually played on a whistle, but in the episode in which they played together, they used both whistles and recorders....
......I spoke to Brice Martin today, and he confirmed that he was the whistle player on both episodes (Fred Selden did play a bit on one of them, but not in the spots in which Patrick Stewart appears to play on camera).
Usually when actors are shown playing instruments in films or on TV, it looks pretty bad, but once in awhile a director cares enough to do it right, and that's what happened here. Before anything was filmed or recorded, when all they had was a script, the director, the composer, and Brice got together so that Brice could show them the various instruments in his arsenal that might suit the purpose, (they settled on a pennywhistle), and a general idea of the sort of music that might work. The composer, Jay Chattaway, then wrote the appropriate cues, and they recorded them, with Brice playing the whistle parts (on an Oak D, incidentally); this is called a prerecord, because it's done in advance of the filming of the scene in question, and the idea is that the actors will be able to hear the music in order to fake along and have it look more or less convincing. Then, in this case, Brice actually got together with Patrick Stewart on several occasion and gave him whistle lessons. Apparently, at one point Stewart felt that he might be able to get good enough to actually play on screen, but it was clear to Brice that that was never going to fly, even as diligently as he was working at it.
So, what you see on the screen is this: Patrick Stewart is pretending to play, apparently pretty convincingly, and he's actually listening to the prerecord using tiny headphones concealed in his ears (they couldn't just play it back over speakers during the filming, because it would affect the sound of the scene itself), and coordinating with that. In one of the episodes (Brice couldn't remember which), what's called a hand double was used for one shot: somebody's hands other than Stewart's pretending to play, but a real wind player, therefore convincing--they couldn't use Brice's hands, because he's much younger than Stewart, and it would have looked phony. Brice couldn't remember whose hands were used, or maybe never knew.
Here's a bit of information I didn't expect to be able to get, but in this case luck was on my side: it turns out that the instrument Patrick Stewart was playing wasn't a whistle at all: the prop people at Paramount looked over Brice's instruments, and just made something that looked interesting, loosely based on them; in fact it was a solid piece of brass, very heavy according to Bryce, and of course made no sound of any kind.
One of several photographs of what may or may not be the prop used by Patrick Stewart
My thanks to Michael O'Donovan for the great research and information and to Geert Bonte for the information from his website and for the photos!
NOTE: The above information on the Star Trek whistle thing is permanently installed on
The Chiff & Fipple Nougat Center
III. KNEE DRIVING REVISITED
The Chiff & Fipple Message Board (Since last summer, users have posted a total of -31205- Messages. We have -1015- Registered Users), recently developed a thread of messages about whistling in cars and it reminded me that it has been some time since I posted a rant about the dangers of, as we like to call it in the whistle community, Knee Driving. This will be old hat for you veterans, but we have many new members who may be in danger.
If you must whistle, do not drive and if you must drive do not whistle. Do not yield to the temptation to play that whistle when the car is moving. Not even when you're on that long stretch of straight, flat, traffic-free highway. Don't do it. The dangers are many and here's an incomplete list.
1. You get to explain to a judge why playing a musical instrument while driving didn't contribute to the 9-car accident you caused. The judge goes home and tells his wife over dinner about the idiot he had in his court that was trying to explain why playing a musical instrument while driving didn't contribute to the 9-car accident the idiot caused.
2. You start to run off the road and you drop the whistle in your lap and oversteer and lose control and run off the other side of the road and your car ramps into the air, goes fully airborne and lands on a cow. You have to pay the farmer for the cow. You don't get to keep the beef.
3. Due to not having your hands on the wheel, you have an accident and your airbag deploys and the force of it causes the whistle to impale you through the medulla oblongata or maybe the brain stem. This ruins your whole day on account of the fact that you use your medulla and your brain stem a lot. Trust me, I'm a doctor. I know about this kind of thing.
Which reminds of me the Phineas Gage thing. Remember?
Phineas Gage was a young railroad construction supervisor in the Rutland and Burland Railroad site, in Vermont. In September 1848, while taking a break and playing an early version of an Overton low D whistle (1848 was, of course, before Colin Goldie's time, so Bernard Overton must have made it), an explosion projected the whistle rod against his skull, at a high velocity. The whistle entered his head through his left cheek, destroyed his eye, traversed the frontal part of the brain, and left the top of the skull at the other side. Gage lost consciousness immediately, however, he recovered conscious moments later, and was taken to a local doctor, John Harlow. Amazingly, he was talking and could walk. (It was amazing that Phineas could talk and walk. I'm not sure about the doctor). Phineas lost a lot of blood, but after a bout with infection, he not only survived the ghastly lesion, but recovered well, too. Months later, however, Gage began to have startling changes in personality in mood. He became obsessed with collecting whistles, as opposed to actually playing them, and could no longer hold a job or plan his future. "Gage was no longer Gage", said his friends of him. He died in 1861, thirteen years after the accident, penniless, homeless, with only the clothes on his back and a really fabulous whistle collection. His former physician, John Harlow, interviewed his friends and relatives, and wrote three articles, reporting Gage's reconstructed medical history, one in 1848, entitled "Passage of a Low D Whistle Through the Head", another in 1868, titled "Recovery from the Passage of a Low D Whistle Through the Head", and another in 1869, "Neurotraumatic Whistle Obsessive Acquisition (N-WhOA) Disorder Due to Passage of a Low D Whistle Through the Head."
So, anyway, next time you think about whistling while driving (or, taking a break on a construction site in Vermont, or snow skiing, or operating a crane, or operating on a crane [veterinarians only], think about about Phineas Gage and how you could end up like him or, more likely, worse.
V. A REMINDER OF WHY I REALLY OUGHT TO GET TIN WHISTLE HAIKU GOING AGAIN
Window full of Clarkes.
I sure don't need another.
Well, one more won't hurt.
Free to caring home,
a large pile of whistles or
the man that bought them.
Thanks to Tim.
And thanks to you all for being part of Chiff & Fipple.
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That they may seek the way of peace,
with wisdom and strength;
For all the victims of war and destruction:
for their healing and peace;
For children orphaned by violence,
and for those widowed by war;
For members of all armed services,
that God might guard them,
and return them safely to their loved ones;
For an end to all war and violence,
that peace might prevail;
Lord, help us see how near is your kingdom.