September 18, 2005
Chiff & Fipple is Doing a Heck of a Job
I. THE CHIFF & FIPPLE GREETING
Coming to you again from Chiff & Fipple HQ in the Southeastern United States, where are hearts are heavy due to all the devastation just south and west of us. More about that later.
II. CRAIG STUNTZ's LEARNING TO WHISTLE
Relatively new and excellent is Craig Stuntz's new whistle website/blog at http://learningtowhistle.blogspot.com/.
Craig's enterprise stands to eventually crush Chiff & Fipple and force me into retirement. You know, to "spend more time with my family." (What? And give up show business?). So, naturally, I want to do all I can to promote it. Craig's splendid blog contains essays, interviews, photos from various whistle-related events, and useful links. Nicely done and highly recommended.
IIa. A note on researching various whistles, including inexpensive whistles
Since these pages were originally put together in 1996 or so, Chiff & Fipple's message board community has gotten huge. That forum includes over thousands and thousands of posts about whistles. I recommend you join, it's free, and use the SEARCH function to find threads and posts about the whistle you're interested in. (Study the SEARCH system carefully, it's a bit complicated, but most useful). The address is http://chiffboard.mati.ca
Another tremendous resource is Greg Mahan's Wandering Whistle website. Greg is an active member of Chiff & Fipple and actually was writing about whistles on the internet before me. He writes thorough and thoughtful reviews. (As opposed to my reviews which typically read like this: "Holy Jeepers! This whistle is the coolest! Hand me another one.....Wowser! This whistle is the total coolest! What's that one over there? Yikes-a-hootie!") Greg's reviews are often published on the Chiff & Fipple message board, but there's also a complete set on Greg's website at
III. WHISTLE PLAYER'S HORNPIPE
Here's an interesting thing. Duncan Gillis has a new product, which he is calling the Whistle Player's Hornpipe. Here's a picture from very informative website.
Duncan sent me one of these instruments, which sell for $239.00. Cases and instrument stands are available, along with some other related products.
As you may be able to see, this instrument has a fingering system and cylindrical shaft like a typical Low D whistle. That's a saxophone mouthpiece. You can see the bell there at the bottom. So, we have a kind of interesting hybrid of a sax and a low whistle. From his website:
The Whistle Player’s Hornpipe is 24” long and plays in the key of D, one octave below flutes and ‘low’ whistles in D, with a gorgeous dark tone reminiscent of the human voice or clarinet. But since it accommodates whistle and flute fingering and ornaments, it ends up sounding quite unlike anything else you’ve ever heard. The single reed is held directly in the mouth where it can be manipulated, giving the Whistle Player’s Hornpipe a range of tonal expression and volume variability (dynamics) not available on whistle and flute. And if you become good at over-blowing, you can play in a higher register that sounds amazingly like the uilleann pipe chanter.
The Whistle Player’s Hornpipe traces its origins into the dim mists of Celtic history, and even prehistory. Early reed-pipes have been found in megalithic, Bronze and Iron Age tombs and references suggest that reed-pipes were played in 5th and 6th century Ireland. In his presentation on hornpipes to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1950, L.G. Langwill concluded:
Brought to the British Isles with the Celtic immigration, the [hornpipe] survived for a time in those regions in which Celtic blood has held its own.
Listing the instruments of ancient Ireland, piper and Irish-music-historian Breandàn Breathnach notes:
The cuisle cheoil, musical pipe, as the name indicates, was a pipe or tube of narrow bore. It was probably made of cane or hollowed wood and sounded by having a tongue or slit cut into it to form a single reed.
Breathnach, Breandàn, Folk Music and Dances of Ireland Cork & Dublin, The Mercier Press, 1971. p. 6
The famous authority on ancient instruments of the British Isles, Canon Francis Galpin, went on to say:
It is possible that [the hornpipe] is the instrument which is represented on the sculptured Irish cross at Durrow, erected about the year A.D. 1000.
Galpin, Francis W. Old English Instruments of Music. London, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1969. p. 128
The Whistle Player’s Hornpipe shares the basic characteristics of the instruments described above, the only differences being in dimensions and in the materials used. It is believed that primitive forms of the hornpipe were played all over the ancient world since time immemorial. In his definitive paper, The Old British “Pibcorn" or “Hornpipe” and Its Affinities, Henry Balfour states that this type of instrument is “probably one of the earliest invented of wind instruments.”(Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 20, 1891, p. 143) This opinion is echoed by Breandàn Breathnach. (Breathnach p. 6)
There are a couple of soundclips available at the website.
Now, some readers will recall that we've seen sax/flute hybrids before. Brian Wittman has been making a higher-pitched, 8-hole instruments, the "Maui Xaphoon" for 20 years or so (www.xaphoon.com). But, to my knowledge, this is the first time I've seen a low-pitched instrument of this kind marketed to the public.
It should be noted (and it is well-noted on Duncan's website) that you can't play the Hornpipe like a Low D whistle. Not only do you have to learn to play the single-reed mouthpiece, but the fingering system is somewhat different, due to the nature of the interaction of the single reed with the shaft. The lower register pretty much works like a Low D whistle, but the second register, harder to play, yields a different set of notes than a Low D. See the website for details.
Another striking thing about the instrument is that the lower register and the higher register sound, really, like different instruments. The lower register, to my ears, sounds like a sax, and perhaps not surprisingly. The higher register, as Duncan claims, sounds something like a bagpipe chanter. The striking contrast in the lower and upper register is particularly apparent on the Port na bPúcaí sound clip.
I've played with this instrument for a few days and I'm somewhat at a disadvantage because this is my first experience with a sax mouthpiece. I've been able to manage to get a pretty decent lower register, but I still can't hit the high register. It's very well made. I've reviewed Duncan's documentation (fingering charts, and how-to's) and they are very helpful. I like interesting stuff and this is an interesting instrument. I would, however, offer a couple of cautions.
First, I'm not sure how useful it would be for traditional Celtic music. It does not sound like a low whistle. That's ok, but I just wouldn't want any newcomer to these instruments to be misled. (And, again, Duncan does a fine job of describing the instrument and providing sound clips). I'm not especially fond of the sound of a saxophone playing Irish music. The upper register makes more sense to me, but it raises the question of whether building the whole thing an octave higher might be a useful approach. I'm not sure.
That said, I have to say I've had a lot of fun playing with this thing and I'll be interested to get other reactions to it.
Latin Proverb of the Day
with Bob Patrick
III. David O'Brien 3-piece High D
David O'Brien has been making whistles from copper since 1996.
David's whistles have gotten some positive attention. On the Chiff & Fipple whistle board, the highly knowledgeable and discerning JessieK provided a positive review about a year ago.
O'Briens are tunable and are available in C, D, Eb, E and Bb. A set comes with one head joint and a variety of interchangeable bodies.
David sent me a high D whistle which breaks into three parts: The headjoint, and the shaft separating between the third and fourth holes. It comes with a nice cloth pouch with separate compartments for the 3 parts and it fits comfortably in any pocket (except maybe that weird little pocket-watch pocket thing on some blue jeans.) It is very well-made, the tooling is clean and professional. It's slightly heavy, as high D's go. The plug is Delrin. It's got a nice sound. Some people who have played David's whistle call them "quiet" and I guess I agree, although, I would put this one just a little on the quiet side. The tuning is good. I find it easy to play and easy to get solid notes across the two octaves. It's got a really pretty upper end.
One of the odd things about this whistle, is the blade. It's got virtually no edge to it. It doesn't look like it ought to play. It does--really well.
And, this whistle has an incredible amount of what people are generally calling "backpressure" or resistance. You take a deep breath and you start playing this thing and, rather than just nothing your breath flow in and then out of the thing freely (like, say, a Shaw) you encounter some rather stiff resistance. But the notes sound. So, you can take that breath, start playing, and play for about an hour-and-a-half without drawing another breath. You can walk down to the store or change a flat tire. You can take a nap, practically. Ok, I exaggerate. But, in all seriousness, I don't think I have played a whistle that yields this much on so little breath, the relatively quiet volume notwithstanding.
David O'Brien has a lot of options and different configurations on his whistles. Visit his website at http://www.obrienwhistles.com.
Thanks to James Peeples for use of this photo.
IV. BLACK DIAMOND WHISTLE review by Henke.
This is a review of the Black Diamond whistle (Erle Bartlett) which is currently touring Europe.
The whistle is made of brass tubing, similar to Generation style whistles. The bore size is slightly larger than on a brass Generation whistle. It looks like it could be a millimeter larger or so just by looking at them side by side. There is a sticker attached to the brass tube in the old fashion Generation way, with the text “Black Diamond D”. The holes are larger than on a Generation by a few millimeters on each hole. The whole mouthpiece including the fipple plug is made of a nice looking and feeling black polymer material. The design of the mouthpiece is the only place where the whistle stands out from the cheapies in appearance. The mouthpiece is longer and extends further down the bore and it has the metal nail which is probably there to keep the fipple plug in place, similar to Erle’s Syn whistles. The fipple and window also looks very similar to the Syn for those of you who are familiar with that whistle, the differences being that the blade is made of polymer on the BD vs. aluminum on the Syn, and that the window is slightly narrower on the BD. The mouthpiece is easily removable for tuning, the fit is just right, and the tuning slide it creates is very long. The whistle is about 30 cents sharp on A (A=440) with the mouthpiece all the way in and it’s a full half step flat extended all the way (A becomes Ab). Of course, the internal tuning of the whistle suffers with the tuning slide extended so far, so practically, you can’t play it in-tune as a Db whistle. The material, as I said feels very nice, it has more of a flat finish than cheapie whistles, and it looks and feels more dense and costly.
All in all, the appearance of this whistle is that of a luxurious Generation style whistle, and interestingly, this is also very much true of the sound and playability of the whistle.
Here is a pic from the BD website:
The feel of the whistle when playing is nice and comfortable. It is a bit heavier than your average cheapie, especially at the mouthpiece end. The top end of the mouthpiece is almost flat at the bottom and it’s curved at the top, and it rests really comfortably between the lips. The wind way and fipple blade are slightly arched along the same line as the top of the mouthpiece. The holes are as I said, larger than on a Generation but they are spaced about the same, I find the size and spacing very comfortable.
Now, on to how the whistle plays. It plays sort of like a very good tweaked Generation, only slightly purer than the best ones I have turned out. It has a bit more backpressure as well, a fact which I welcome whole heartedly. It has less backpressure than my Syn’s though, and because I’m a backpressure maniac I prefer the Syn in that regard. The tone is a bit purer with less chiff than the Syn as well, but it is better balanced between the octaves, and it doesn’t take as hard blowing in the top octave to play in tune.
The response of the whistle is pretty average. It’s good, but somehow the ornamentations doesn’t come out quite as crisp as on the Syn. It’s still better than most tweaked cheapies I’ve tried. The volume is good as well. It can be played fairly quietly if one would like to, but it can also be pushed quite loud, a feature which I particularly like. This is a very versatile whistle, and it plays more like a flute than any other mid-range whistles I’ve played, except perhaps the Syn. The backpressure allows you to give extra push to some notes and play quieter on others. The only thing you have to mind is the pitch, because it dips quite easily if you don’t give the whistle enough air pressure.
To sum this up, this is a really nice whistle. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys the good tweaked Generation (or is in search of the one off, very good Generation but haven’t found it). To me this is like a cheapie with a more luxurious feel, it has purer tone, more versatility and backpressure than a cheapie, and it plays better. I don’t know where the price tag of this whistle will sit, but I suspect that it will be very affordable and a good whistle for the money.
However, I don’t like it as much as my Syn whistles (which I really love) and I do hope that Erle will continue making those as well. The Syn plays even better and has more of a premium feel with the shiny, thick aluminium, the tuning slide and the gorgeous tone. When I compare the Syn and the Black Diamond, the Black Diamond feels like a very, very good cheapie whistle, while the Syn feels like an under-priced top notch whistle. As good as the Black Diamond is compared to a Generation or other cheapie, it’s not as good as the Syn, and considering the incredibly low price of the Syn, it feels hard to justify a purchase of this whistle. But anyway, that’s just my opinion, and other people might well like this one even better than the Syn.
I really hope that Erle will offer both whistles, and he might well raise the price of his Syn’s a bit if he has to. They would be worth paying double the price that I paid for my Syn’s when I bought them. If they were priced such, the Black Diamond would be well worth paying the original price of the Syn for.
If you want to purchase one of these, try http://www.gaeliccrossings.com. They're showing a price of $75.
The Black Diamond website is http://www.bdwhistles.com/
V. TWO NEW CHIFF & FIPPLE FORUMS
Native American Flute http://www.chiffandfipple.com/naf (New!)
and then there's the mega-forum at http://chiffboard.mati.ca
and coming soon, a stringed instruments (mandolin, fiddle, banjo, etc.) section of the main forum.
The next issue of Chiff & Fipple will be coming to you directly from Senator Trent Lott's porch!
Waste of Time
VII. GUARD IAN, ANGEL!
I recently uncovered the above icon. Posted it on the message board. We're all trying to figure out who Ian is and why he needs guarding so urgently.
VIII. EXCERPTS FROM TRANSCRIPTS OF CHIFF & FIPPLE'S TESTIMONY BEFORE SENATE CONFIRMATION COMMITTEE
Senator Joe Biden: Sir, tell us your opinion of this, uh, E-flat whistle I am holding up.
Dale: Senator, as you know, I may be called upon to review that whistle at some point in the future and so I really think I should refrain from comment on how I may or may not review that whistle in the future.
Biden: No, I'm afraid I must insist. At age 49, you are going to continue to be a extraordinarily powerful person in the world of tinwhistle journalism. You may continue to serve in this function for another 80 or 90 years. A mere gesture, a seeming throw-away remark, and the Whistles Future market reels....
Dale: And jigs! Hehe. There's a little comic relief for you, Senator.
Biden: Do you find this funny, sir?
Dale: Senator, I really don't think....
Biden: SHUT UP! Now, I have this CD by the Roving Ramblin' Tooters. What's your opinion of it?
Dale: (confers on the side with Dr. Paul Busman, whistle-making podiatrist and Chiff & Fipple's long-time legal counsel) Senator, as I've said, I've not yet reviewed that CD but I believe it is on my agenda and I don't think it's appropriate to comment now....
Biden: Look. All we're asking for is for you to tell us how you plan to review every whistle which will be coming up in the next 50 years. Every recording, too. What's the big deal? But, on to another matter. Some of your previous writings disturb me. This essay you wrote, "The Recorder," for example, would seem to suggest that you were once a critic of...
Dale: Senator, if I may, I wrote that, actually printed it with a big pencil, when I was in the second grade. I had to write a few sentences about a musical instrument and I....
Biden: In this report you say, quoting here, "The recodr is a music instrumant you blow in it. It has holes you put your fingers on and then you have to lift up to make notes. I like it ok but it has to manny holes and it sownds weerd." That suggests a bias against recorders, doesn't it, sir?
Dale: Senator, I was only seven years old when I wrote that and it was an assignment I was required to do and l...
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: If the Senator will yield, I could never vote for a nominee that might be biased against recorders.
Dale: I was in the second grade...
Biden: Those are really the formative years, aren't they? I've just been handed a note containing a message for you from the President. He wants you to know he thinks you're doing a heck of a job.
Dale: Thank you, Senator.
IX. The Session
The exchange of tunes is what keeps traditional Irish music alive. This website is one way of passing on jigs, reels and other dance tunes.
X. What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
This website has left me nearly speechless. I will point out that all of the analyses turned out exactly as I had predicted.
XI. CHIFF & FIPPLERS GIVE
Here's an email I sent out to people who contributed to our little fundraiser. Thanks to all who did and thanks to all of you who have contributed to your own favorite charity.
I would not have ever imagined that my little low-key offer to direct contributions to Hurricane Katrina victims would have triggered this kind of response: $3160. Unbelievable. Well, actually, given my experience with Chiff & Fipple's musician community, it's not unbelievable, but it's very touching nonetheless.
Here's what we've done so far:
I purchased $540 in personal items in the first weekend after the storm when there were so many acute needs. Those went to evacuees housed in a large shelter in Birmingham. That shelter has since been closed as people found places to stay or were moved to more suitable locations.
I spoke with a local Catholic parish situated in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Birmingham, St. Mary's, which is actually located in an area of Birmingham called Fairfield. They have a number of displaced families they are taking care of and I have contacts in that community that were able to assure me that the funds would be used in the spirit intended by my earlier emails to you. So, on your behalf, I sent $1000 to St. Mary's, earmarked for hurricane assistance.
This morning I spoke to people at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Hattiesburg, though very hard hit by the storm, has become one of the major staging areas for relief in southern Mississippi. Now, here's a story for you. The priest at that church is Father Tommy Conway. (From Galway, Ireland. One of 15 children, as it turns out.) Hurricane Katrina heavily damages his church and puts two trees on his own home. Miraculously (or something) his cell phone continues to work during the aftermath of the storm. Someone calls him and tells him that they have an RV they wanted to offer for his use. I think there intent is for Fr. Conway to have a place to live. But, Fr. Conway goes, maxes out his credit cards, and loads the RV up with supplies and starts driving through rural southern Mississippi, hitting the REALLY small towns there that, even in good times, are isolated places. Last Friday, for example, he rolls into Hot Coffee, Mississippi. He gets to these tiny and very poor towns and, even now, finds people who are still desperate for water, food, basic supplies. I called this morning and spoke to his secretary who tells me that they are constantly getting calls for people needing direct aid in Hattiesburg and environs, in addition to Father Tommy's one-man relief effort. So, I sent $1000 to them for hurricane relief.
That leaves another, what, $620 or so. There's an item in this morning's paper about Birmingham starting to shape up to be a major re-settlement area for evacuees. I don't want to hang on to this money for long, but I'm thinking I'll just keep my ears open for a situation which this money might address.
I thank you again for your response. I'll let you know what happens to the rest of the funds!
The rest of the funds have now been donated to another local group trying to help families settle in our area.
We may be doing some more fundraising down the road related to Katrina. As you know, this is not going away.
XII. CHIFF & FIPPLE SAYS
Bye for now.
The river rose all day, the river rose all night Some people got lost in the flood, some people got away all right The river has busted thru clear down to Plaquemines Six feet of water in the streets of EvangelineLouisiana, Louisiana. They're tryin' to wash us away. They're tryin' to wash us away.
a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security
Lord, help us see how near is your kingdom.
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