June 12, 2005
Chiff & Fipple Dating Katie Holmes
I. Tom Cruise IS TOTALLY IN LOVE with his whistles.
In between gushing in public over his new girlfriend and spouting off all kinds of judgmental silliness about mental illness and the treatment of choices of the sufferers thereof, Tom Cruise shows his enthusiasm for his new whistles on the Oprah show.
Oprah: So what's with you, Girlfriend?
TOM: (Leaping to stand on couch) Oh, by the sacred blood of L. Ron Hubbard! I'M IN LOVE!
Oprah: Katie does seem like a lovely girl...
TOM: Right. I love my whistles AND I love Katie. And I'm totally exposing her to Chiff & Fipple!! And she's starting to dig it!
Oprah: Tom, as you know, there has been a lot of controversy about your involvement in Chiff & Fipple. You've become a kind of spokesperson for that group. For example, you recently said in public that Brooke Shields should have used the principles of Chiff & Fipple to recover from her postpartum depression, rather than antidepressant medications.
TOM: You know, Oprah, I'm not a doctor, but I reserve the right to disregard my own narrow-minded bigotry and ignorance in the service of publicly criticizing people regarding their health problems about which I know nothing. Just because I'm ignorant doesn't mean I'm not right! And Katie thinks that's cool, too.
Oprah: Tom, our discussion has calmed to the point that I think you can stop standing on my couch now.
II. DAVY SPILLANE LOW D WHISTLE
review by Bloomfield
We are finally able to confirm the existence of at least one of the new Davy Spillane whistles, and we're most grateful to chiffboard regular Bloomfield for taking the plunge, buying the whistle, and providing this splendid review.
This is not just a review; it is a story.
There is a long version to the story of the Davy Spillane Low D, and there is a short version.
The short version: I have a Davy Spillane Low D. Yes, it exists. It looks a lot like a Howard Low D. It's not a very good whistle.
No, this is not it.
To tell the longer version, I'll have to reach back a bit in history... whistle history and whistle mystery. Yes, mystery surrounds the Davy Spillane low D. In pictures and videos of his famous Riverdance performances, Spillane plays a whistle that looks remarkably like an Overton. But Spillane apparently has repeatedly insisted that he does not play an Overton low D, but a whistle that he himself made. Thing is no one has ever seen this Spillane Low D, nor is there anyone known to have been able to order one from Spillane, although Spillane advertised these whistles at various times. And Spillane is known to own a big-hole Overton low D.
On the chiffboard meantime, the Davy Spillane low D took on mythical status and reports of it were treated as apocryphal. There were jokes, unpleasant (and I daresay unfair) remarks were passed, there was an air of indignation, and whistlers from Utah offered advice on customer relations for whistle makers. A "professional" MUSICIAN from Illinois started channeling Spillane, or claimed to do so anyway. A normal day on chiff & fipple, in short.
Here is a selected chronicle of the more recent history: An early inquiry (with a remarkably perceptive response by Zubivka); the announcement of the plastic-head Spillanes is met with skepticism; Spillane sighted playing an Overton; further speculation and all that; the plot thickens; renewed attempts by Bloomfield. I gave up on pooling funds since I was not hearing back from Spillane. Then, in early 2005, I did hear back. I sent the money, and the whistle was shipped.
Davy Spillane Low D. (click here to enlarge)
The Spillane low D that finally surfaced is a "Howard" style low D (aluminum tube with plastic head) not an "Overton" style low D (all aluminum). Before I get into reviewing the whistle, I would just like to make the following comment on the mystery surrounding the Spillane low D. If I were in Spillane's role of fame and glory, I would not want be associated with a particular whistle, unless I really endorsed it, or made money from it. I shouldn't wonder that Spillane hasn't in the past had a whistle pushed on him, only to hear the maker then claim that "Spillane plays XYZ whistles." Even if that wasn't the case, as Davy Spillane I'd be careful and generally shy about confirming rumors that I play this or that instrument. Fun to speculate about mystery whistles, of course, but I never quite understood why people would get so upset with Spillane (if you do understand, please don't try to explain it to me; I've heard it).
Alba low D, blue new-style Howard low D, Spillane low D, recent Overton low D. (click here to enlarge)
Now on to the review proper.
The Spillane has a pleasant, slightly breathy sound. It is on the quiet side. I've recorded a couple of clips, to give an impression. Here is a jig, The Blooming Meadows (you'll forgive my playing). What I hope is apparent is that the tuning is fairly good (the low E and to a lesser extent the high e are slightly sharp). I don't think the whistle is well balanced: the bottom end is weak compared to the upper octave, and in order to blow the second octave in tune, you are blowing quite a bit harder and the whistle is quite a bit louder. In fact, the low E and D are weak and fragile, and break or flip easily.
In terms of backpressure, the Spillane requires a bit but not much: More than my Alba or Howard, less than my Overton. It would be a pleasant enough whistle to play if it weren't prone to clogging. That's a fixable problem, of course, and the soap trick should do it. But without that, I found myself clearing the windway frequently and when playing a set of tunes, the clogging made the tone thinner and more fragile after a while.
Here is a comparison: Another jig, Garrett Barry's, played first on the Spillane, then on a Colin-Goldie Overton, finally on a new-style Howard. It's all subjective, of course, but to my ear the Spillane doesn't have the Cosmic tone of the Overton, but is similar to the Howard, if not as forceful. And to round things out, here is a slow air played on the Spillane, By the Side of the Rock (from A Dossan of Heather).
The Spillane low D is not particularly well made. The aluminum tube is brushed, but the finish doesn't look professional. That doesn't bother me much; it does bother me, though, that there is residue stuck inside some of the tone-holes. The tube inside the head was obviously cut with a tube cutter, and there are sharp and uneven edges. The head is made from injection-molded plastic. The mold is misaligned, giving a ring just at the edge of the windway (a bit like the Kerry heads). The Spillane has a narrow beak, which makes it remarkably comfortable to play.
Davy Spillane Low D head. Notice the plastic bit inside the head, catching the light. (click here to enlarge)
Davy Spillane Low D head from the side. (click here to enlarge)
Looking closely at the head you can see the uneven color (indicating uneven molding temperatures, I think). The molded head was apparently machined, leaving marks. Inside the windway, there is a square bit of plastic sticking out, which should have been removed. All this gives the Spillane a cheap or slightly amateurish feel---nothing wrong with that, except that the whistle cost 200 Euros, which is pricey.
I include here a series of pictures. Mostly comparisons with other whistles, which will bring me to the last point of my review.
Davy Spillane Low D head next to an old-style (well-loved) Howard head. Notice the similar bevels on the blade. (click here to enlarge)
For comparison: new-style Howard head (photo, on a poststructural bath rug, by Dale). (click here to enlarge)
Apart from the minor differences, such as the narrowness of the beak, the slight flattening of the top of the beak, and the bevel of the ramp (which resembles the old-style Howard more than then the new-style), the head of the Spillane bears more than a passing resemblance to the new-style Howard head. The Howard low D is considerably cheaper than the Spillane, of course, uses thin brass tube rather than a thick aluminum tube, and is better-made, at least to my layman's eye.
For comparison, from the top: Old-style Howard, recent Overton, Spillane, big-hole Overton. (click here to enlarge)
As you can tell, the Howard is a bit shorter than the Spillane or the Overtons, which has to do with the wider inside diameter of the Howard. In the picture posted further up, you can see the Spillane next to a new-style Howard. Take a look at the hole spacing: The Spillane hole-spacing is very close to the Howard (only hole sizes are different, as you'd expect), but to my mind is identical (or very nearly so), to the big-hole Overton.
Hole patterns, from the top: Old-style Howard, Spillane, big-hole Overton. (click here to enlarge)
Seems to me that the Spillane low D was inspired by (if not copied from) the Howard head and the tube of a big-hole Overton. For the price, I'd expect the whistle to play well, which it doesn't. That is subjective to a certain extent, I know, but I can't see a professional player using this whistle.
There you have it. A shred of the Spillane mystery remains, in that we haven't seen an Overton-style all-aluminum Spillane low D. But perhaps the Howard-style Spillane is enough.
And the oddest thing of all: The Spillane isn't signed or stamped "Spillane," reducing its sentimental value to Spillane fans.
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III. THE DOLE
This is Matthew Bivins, of Jump, Little Children, writing to tell you about an upcoming series of music dates that fans of the tin-whistle, and Irish music, and punk rock, should be made aware of. My Irish music side project, the Dole (http://www.thedole.com) is playing in Athens, GA (June 24th), Charleston, SC (July 1st), and Durham, NC (July 3rd, for the Festival for the Eno, where I'm sure other Celtic-y types will congregate) in the next two months. This new, "improved" version of the Dole features Amanda "Tri" Kapousouz on fiddle, Matthew "Aiden" Bivins on whistle, my brother Evan on guitar, and Ash "Charlie" Hopkins on bass. We're playing frisky and furious tunes in the American Punk Rock style, and throw in a few trad songs such as "Lannigan's Ball" and "Arthur MacBride". We, as anti-establishment lowlife types, feel that nobody has really gotten the Celtic/Punk rock combination right, since the Pogues, and even they could have done some things better, which we're aiming to fix in these shows. Actually, as I'm writing this, I'm thinking that maybe no one reading this from your site would want to see us play, but that's OK, because we think that we're Punk, and that means that we Just Don't Care. Right? Thanks.
I hope you are well. Thank you for continuing to be such a rich resource for my students and me!
IV. ON ANOTHER GENERAL MUSIC NOTE
From time-to-time, I like to recommend music, even music that is completely unrelated to our instrument o'choice. For fans of bands like Coldplay and Radiohead, I can enthusiastically recommend The Dissociatives. (And, speaking of Coldplay, I like the new album AND I have tickets to their September 2005 show in Birmingham.) This is some lovely and somewhat eccentric pop music. One tune includes the lines,
"ALL OF THIS TIME ON MY HANDS SO FAR HAS GONE TO FEEDING MY ANIMALS"
What's not to love?
V. SETTLE AN ARGUMENT
Is 49-years-old too old to go to the September 2005 Coldplay concert in Birmingham?
I rest my case
VI. AHAVA RABAH
The following is submitted by Paul Busman (BREWERPAUL), who many of you know as a maker of fine whistles, and C&F's official podiatrist and occasional legal consultant since 1973.
Our own Dan Bingamon just sent me the most interesting whistle I've played in quite a while. It's an Ahava Rabah brass whistle in D, and you can see them on his site ( http://jubileeinstruments
.messianic-webhosting.com) . Mine is one of the brass ones. Ahava Rabah refers to the scale which this whistle plays. It's not a normal diatonis DO-RE-MI scale. Instead, it uses a mode used for many Jewish/Klezmer tunes as well as much Arabic music and music from other cultures as well (see Dan's site for info on that too). /whisethnic.htm
I call it the Hava Nagila whistle 'cause I can play that familiar tune with no half holing needed. This scale makes the size and spacing of the holes look pretty strange, but it's easy to play. It's also a lot of fun for simply noodling around on-- everything comes out sounding rather exotic. The tone is fairly quiet and a bit reedy which really sounds nice on this sort of music. At $40 for a whole other type of musical experience, you can't go wrong. Hey, I gotta go see if some traditional Passover tunes work on this whistle...
VII. A LOVELY CD BY ONE OF OUR OWN
Steve Grahn, a longtime participant in our C&F community, sent me a copy of his beautiful CD A Trick of the Light. I'm pleased to recommend this CD, featuring Steve on flute, guitar and other stuff.
VIII. WHY IT'S BEEN SO LONG SINCE CHIFF & FIPPLE PRODUCED A NEWSLETTER
The interns have been "busy."
Chiff & Fipple's 2005 Interns
IX. Kerry Songbird Low D
Here's a fine review of the Kerry Songbird Low D by Greg, The Wandering Whistler
Phil Hardy has started making the Kerry Songbird as a low D. It's like a Kerry Songbird, but in the lower octave, naturally. In order to keep costs down, Phil is only offering these through his own site at kerrywhistles.com. Phil was kind enough to send me one from his first production run to test out, so you guys get to hear about it right away!
At a Glance
Whistle Reviewed: Kerry Songbird non-tunable Low D
Models Available: D and low D, tunable and non-tunable.
Construction: Aluminum with aluminum mouthpiece.
Price at time of review: £69 non-tunable, £99 tunable (convert from GBP to your currency here: xe.com)
Available From: kerrywhistles.com
How Acquired: Product sample from Phil Hardy
Bottom Line: Similar to the New Range Chieftain Low D, though more rich and mellow.
The Songbird Low D looks quite similar to the Chieftain line of whistles that Phil produces (see my Chieftain reviews if you haven't already). It's got a similar-looking sleek aluminum body, but the Songbird also has an actual mouthpiece. This makes it look less like something homemade. I expect I'll get the "Did you make that yourself?" question a lot less with this one. Not that I think I could make a Chieftain, mind you. They're just so minimalist in design, I just seem to get that question a lot.
And here it is! I think there can be a tendency on low D's for the mouthpiece to look freakishly huge (at least on those designs that have a separate mouthpiece). It can look as if the maker has taken their high D design and just multiplied all of the dimensions (height, width, etc) by two to get a low D version. The Howard comes to mind. I think, in contrast, Phil's low D mouthpiece avoids that look, and comes across as more sleek and stylish.
Speaking of the mouthpiece, here it is. Notice the labium ramp, which is dramatically different from the Chieftain line. Here, we have a curved half-moon of a blade. Not being a whistle-smith, I'm not sure in the advantage gained, but there are definite differences between the sound of this whistle and the Chieftain range, and I'm sure this different labium ramp plays some part in that.
I was pretty sure that the toneholes felt smoother on the Songbird. Upon putting it side-by-side with my Chieftain, it's definite...the holes are chamfered and polished.
Like the Chieftain range, these are numbered on the back near the bell end. I'm pretty sure that this is the date of manufacture, rather than a unique serial number. Not really useful in proving an instrument is yours, but useful in a more abstract way, such as if certain batches of instruments turn out to be particularly good or bad.
This whistle shares a lot of the playing characteristics of the Chieftain range of instruments. But the Songbird low D is mellower than the Chieftain. I'd call the Chieftain "bright" sounding in comparison. The Songbird has a richer timbre, with a bit more airiness and a bit less volume. The differences between the Kerry Songbird and the New Range Chieftain low whistles is quite subtle, however.
A sound clip of the whistle:
Stack of Rye Here's Stack of Rye with this whistle, so you can compare it to the two Chieftain reviews I have on the site.
Volume: This whistle is on the quiet side. It's not as loud as the New Range. I took it to Friday session--which is a large session with usually 10 or more musicians in a rowdy pub--and had a hard time being heard. Good for if you were recording, had a mic, or in a quieter session.
Responsiveness: Because of it's mellow nature and weaker D and E notes, ornaments don't sound as bright and crisp on those notes as higher on the whistle or on a more chipper instrument. That said, I was able to play this whistle about as quickly as my Chieftain New Range. It just wasn't as crisp sounding in the very bottom of the scale.
C-Natural: OXXOOO produces a c-natural that's perhaps 5 cents flat (which isn't much) with the expected breath pressure. OXOOOO is about 5 cents sharp. Both are easily brought into line with a little breath control, so choose the method you like best.
Tuning: This whistle is in tune when warmed. That said, the lowest notes (D and E) were a little weak. They took a little less breath to be in tune than the rest of the whistle. If I played them with the breath requirements I'd expect, they run about 15 cents sharp.
Hole Size and placement: Similar hole placement to a Chieftain New Range. The E hole is slightly larger than average, and the bottom hole is closer (and thus more manageable) than some low D's...for instance, the Copeland Low D bottom hole is quite far from the next hole up in comparison.
Air volume and pressure requirements: The whistle has a little more back pressure than the New Range Chieftains, but not as much as the Old Range Chieftains, especially in the upper octave. It also requires a little more air than the New Range Chieftains...but not much.
Clogging: This whistle, like all aluminum whistles I've played, gets wet pretty quick. Especially when the mouthpiece hasn't been sufficiently warmed. Unfortunately, unlike the Chieftain line, the windway isn't self-clearing. Eventually, you'll need to blow it out and keep on going, which is pretty easy to do. I ended up treating the windway with Duponol and haven't had any issues since. This is a detergent-action chemical (also sold in recorder circles under the name AntiCondens) that sells for about $3.00 a bottle, and that bottle will last you a long long time.
Misc Notes: Like the Chieftain line, this whistle is wind susceptible. I really can't play much outside in Dallas with it, as it's a lot more windy here than Houston.
If you liked the mellowness of Phil's old style Chieftain's, and perhaps find his new range a little too bright, you'll love the tone on this one. It's got that great "turn the lights down low" romantic sound to it, while still being much easier to play than the original Chieftains.
X. CHERISH THE LADIES AT THE WHITE HOUSE
Thanks to our friends Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies for providing forensic evidence that they played at the White House on St. Patrick's Day 2005.
Laura and I want to thank Cherish These Ladies for playin' today at the White House. We sure did enjoy all the tootin' and that Irish hoppin' around!
Glenn Schultz 1941-2005
We lost Glenn Schultz last week. We've lost a beloved member of the whistle community. I asked Paul Busman, Glenn's friend and student, to prepare a tribute.
Glenn Schultz. How do you describe Glenn Schultz? Instrument maker? Poet? Husband? Father? Musician? Machinist? Philosopher? Bard? Teacher? Friend? Songsmith?
Glenn was all of these, but wrapped together in such a way that truly defies description.
Over the past several days, many in the whistle and traditional music community have weighed in with their own thoughts on the passing of this sweet, generous man. Some did not even know Glenn but still felt compelled to add their thoughts and wishes. Others knew Glenn much better and have shared real personal insights. Here are some thoughts of just one more person that Glenn touched.
I first heard of Glenn Schultz back around 1985 when I bought a Thin Weasel in Rosewood. IN the days when pennywhistle meant Generation, I had never seen anything so beautiful, but had to think long and hard to part with the princely sum of $125. I had some technical questions about the whistle that the dealers couldn't answer, but they gave me Glenn's address in Troy MI (funny coincidence #1-- I lived in Troy NY at the time). I asked my questions and received the first memorable post card from Glenn quickly. It was typewritten because, as Glenn explained, his arthritic hands made writing difficult. It was hard for me to believe that arthritic hands had made that wondrous whistle! His style was terse and fragmented, but at the same time warm and oh so human. I found other excuses to write to Glenn and eagerly awaited his responses. Some of theme were hand written, his crabbed writing (even worse than a doctor's!) lending credence to his description of his arthritis. Sometimes I got a longer letter, and sometimes those letters contained poetry whose likes I'd never read. I confess that I'm not a major fan of poetry-- I find much of it too ethereal or vaguely symbolic. Glenn's poetry touched something deep within me though. He opened his soul in his poetry, laying it bare for any who cared to look. There was pain there, but also love, pride, silliness,joy, reverence, irreverence, confusion, certainty-- a rich mix of all that it means to be a human being. Many of those poems have ended up in Glenn's book "The Verser's Curse", which I wholeheartedly recommend for all who knew Glenn or wished they did.
Time went on and while I already loved the man dearly I never thought that I would ever go to Michigan to meet the Weasel face to face. But life takes many interesting twists and turns. In 1999, I sold a bass recorder on eBay to a woman from the suburbs of Detroit. To make a short story even shorter, we communicated, fell in love and realized that we had to be husband and wife. Funny coincidence #2-- her family lived only an hour away from Troy MI where Glenn still lived. On our first trip out to visit them, I just had to meet Glenn. I followed his directions ("turn right at the big-ass Baptist church...")and walked in the back door ("pet the dog as you come in..."). Glenn was sitting at the kitchen table, magnifying spectacles perched atop his head, glass of "cheap eye-talian wine" in front of him. He stood painfully, placed his hands on my shoulders and said "Paulie, yer real, man!". Then he kissed me ("on the lips, man, on the lips!") and we hugged for dear life. It was a moment not to be forgotten. We sat and drank that cheap eye-talian wine, and caught up on a lifetime. I shared my woes, and he shared his. I shared my joys and he did likewise. Glenn treated me to tunes, not only on whistle which he found difficult due to breathing problems, but on the harp, accordion, and classical guitar, all of which he played well. We talked on and on and by the time I dragged myself away hours later, I really felt I had found a soulmate.
One of the things I learned about Glenn is that he believed passionately that knowledge was meant to be shared and not hoarded jealously. This was so clearly demonstrated by how freely he shared his vast knowledge of machining in general and instrument making in particular. Glenn seemed to almost feel a compulsion to pass on what he had labored so hard to learn in the shop so that this knowledge would not die with him. We have heard from many whistle makers who learned from Glenn, who never once questioned or worried that this information would be used to advance a "competitor". I once voiced feelings to Glenn that I felt bad that my own efforts might cut into his whistle making business. He replied "Jaysus, man, if I didn't want yer to have it I wouldn't have given it to you. Do with it as you will!". And he meant it. He looked at every whistle I ever showed him with joy and the pride of a true teacher. He didn't stint on his criticism either . "It's all in the details" was one of his favorite sayings, which could be praise or criticism as the situation warranted.
Mine was a long distance apprenticeship supplemented with in-shop visits whenever we visited Michigan, and this brought out the genius of how Glenn taught. He doled out his teaching in little, pithy comments rather than long step by step descriptions. This always steered me in the right direction, without spoon feeding me, and left a lot of the process for me to discover on my own. At times this was frustrating to a newbie whistle maker eager to make his mark on the world, but ultimately it was a much more satisfying way of learning. Figuring things out on my own (often late on sleepless nights...) really made the work a part of me.
There was even poetry in the way Glenn wrote about machining. On one occasion, I had to change a complicated part on my lathe and Glenn wrote:
"we'll just have to address the chore step by step. i can tell you straight, man, i can do this in my sleep, but you must follow sequence perfectly, no big deal. holy shit are there ever gonna be words exchanged over this setup!! fear not, man, a piece of pi (3.1416) even a foot doctor can accomplish this, i promise. but perhaps you'd best be copying to paper all forthcoming instructions. you have a killer machine, man, you need only learn its functions and idiosyncrasies. tell you all i know, make any part you need. learn to love the odor of mineral spirits and machine oil. love to you and your woman also. she figures into this also.glenn."
On machining, and quality work: "stint not, 'tis worth your effort. right is right, and all else sux. perfect is close enuf."
Glenn was a deeply spiritual man, although perhaps not in the conventional way. He was fascinated by all faiths of the world and we often talked of this. I believe Glenn's idea of true worship of God was being the very best you knew how at whatever you did, be it whistle making, writing poetry or whatever moved you creatively and passionately. I would like to close with a poem by Glenn from The Verser's Curse, used by permission of Glenn's family. Go in peace, man, knowing you've left the world a better place.
PRAYER OF THE FLUTEMAKER
Lord of all light and vibration,
Master of all land and sea,
Hark you my brief supplication
And attend but a moment to me,
A mote 'mid your marv'lous creation,
Your humblest one drawing breath;
Not daring to ask validation,
I stand 'tween my life and my death
And beg You regard me at labour
On flute I'm attempting to build,
Alone without witness nor neighbour,
Observing the laws that You willed.
So dimly I ken their perfection,
So feebly I wield the tools,
In part through my own instrospection
And part from the wisdom of fools.
The wood from a tree of Your making
I have mounted in my machine,
And manage this vast undertaking
With cutting tools both bright and keen
To fashion a pipe for Your pleasure,
The notes of Your music to play
For ears of the ones who will treasure
Your magic if but for one day.
Look fondly, I ask Thee, upon us
At play about Thy holy Tree.
Look fondly, and have mercy on us;
The glory is all unto Thee.
Glenn A Schultz
goodbye, glenn schultz
Lord, help us see how near is your kingdom.
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