Chiff & Fipple
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a tinwhistle?
A: Ok. The tinwhistle, also called a pennywhistle, a tin whistle, a penny whistle, or just plain "whistle," is an end-blown fipple flute which utilizes the 6-hole, "simple" flute fingering system. This is an old system that predates modern "Boehm" flutes. In popular usage, the word "fipple" often refers to the sound generating system in which air is blown through a channel, split by a blade--which causes turbulence in the area--which produces vibration--which produces sound. And so on. The 6-hole system consists of open, unkeyed holes, normally covered by your fingers and uncovered in various patterns to produce notes. The 6-hole system also appears on instruments such as fifes, bamboo flutes, 10-speed bicycles and many Tex-Mex chili dishes.
The tinwhistle is a version of an instrument that exists in various versions in other cultures. The instrument is most identified with Irish music.
Q: How do you find time to do all of this whistle stuff?
A: Three words: Intravenous Mountain Dew.
Q: What's the best tinwhistle?
A: What's the best food? What's your favorite color? What is the "best" kind of music?
Q: Why are you being so irritable?
A: Three words: Intravenous Mountain Dew.
Q: Who are your favorite whistle players?
A: Joanie Madden. Cormac Breatnach, Brian Finnegan, L.E. McCullough, Laurence Nugent, Turlach Boylan
Q: Of these, who does the best impression of Michael Flatley?
A: Joanie Madden
Q: What is Chiff? What is Fipple? Why 'Chiff & Fipple'?
Well, the last question is the easiest to answer. I chose two words from the vocabulary of whistle players and stuck them together because it sounded funny to me. The word "fipple" has come to be used to refer to the sound generation device of whistles, recorders, and similar instruments. A stream of air goes through a duct and then gets split by a blade. More precisely, the term fipple refers to a more specific part of mouthpiece--actually it would be the wooden plug, for example, on a Clarke whistle. "Chiff" is a hard word to define. It's a quality, present in varying amounts, in whistles. I'm told by smart people that it is a term that comes from pipe organ builders. In fact, often keyboard synthesizers will have a preset sound called "Chiff' or "Chiff Organ" or something. I asked Michael Copeland to define chiff for me when I spoke to him on September 2, 1998. He said that it refers to nonmusical aspects of the sound of a whistle. It has to do with the attack of the sound; the amount of "edge" in the sound. Something like that.
Q: How about "PostStructural"? You call it "Chiff & Fipple: The PostStructural Tinwhistle Internet Experience"
Q: What does that mean?
A: What does what mean?
A: Well, uh, you know what they say: If you have to ask, you don't know. Hehehe.
A: Well..."poststructural," of course, means, uh, "after 'structural'." Or after the structure. Let's move on.
Q: You don't know do you?
A: No. I just thought it sounded kinda funny and pretentious. That's what I'm about mostly.
Q: Why do you intersperse helpful information about whistles with cryptic lunacy about "Crystal People"?
A: Ah. You think me mad. You'll find out soon enough about the C-People. Show some respect.
Q: What's this Viagra deal?
A: I regret the confusion. Viagra, of course, is the name of a recently introduced and wildly popular drug for impotence. Coincidentally, it is also the name of the Crystal People's Vice-Admiral for Planetary Acquisitions.
The Undisputed King of Internet Tinwhistle Journalism in the Mountains of East Tennessee with a Burke Bb. Objects in upper-right hand corner of image not yet identified.
Q: Chiff & Fipple appears to be sponsored by a company I've never heard of before called "3Fish Productions." Who are they and what do they do?
For that, I'll just refer you to their corporate website.
Q: What about expensive vs. inexpensive whistles?
A: One of the unique aspects of the world of the tinwhistle is the odd situation regarding inexpensive and expensive whistles. In the case of virtually every other instrument, cheap instruments are inferior and better instruments tend to cost more. In the case of the tinwhistle, inexpensive whistles really are the most traditional and the most in keeping with the great tradition of, say, the Clarke family, selling pennywhistles off street carts. And inexpensive whistles remain favorites among many, including some of the great players such as Paddy Maloney and Mary Bergin. And, a "good" inexpensive whistle is, well, really good! Until he had to put it to rest a few months ago, L.E. McCullough, who has played and taught tinwhistle for over 20 years, still played the Generation whistle he bought for under $3.00 in the 1970s.
In recent years, a number of fine craftsmen have been making high quality whistles. The instruments feature superior materials and workmanship. Some prefer the inexpensive whistles and are disdainful of the more expensive. Some admire the quality of the expensive whistles (but generally respect the importance of the cheaper whistles). I love inexpensive whistles but greatly admire and respect the work of the great whistle craftsmen. They sound DIFFERENT. They each have their place. Everybody just relax. Everybody just go on home. You've seen enough. There's nothing else to see here. This is a crime scene, I don't want to have to arrest anybody. Oh, sorry....I forgot what I was talking about for a minute.
Q: Excuse me, where is the restroom?
A: It's down the hall. First door on your right. .
Q: Thanks. It's all this Mountain Dew. I'll be back in a minute.
A: I'll wait.
Q: Thanks. So, what exactly is your role in Whistle World?
A: I am an average, amateur whistle player with a phobia for playing in public. I am a fairly serious collector of whistles. I am the world's greatest tinwhistle journalist. Some call me the “Undisputed King of Tinwhistle Internet Journalism.” I accept this title with humility. Others call me "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." No one, to date, has called me "Mr. Television" and no one, but no one, calls me "Janet."
My role in the world of whistles is much like Alan Greenspan’s relationship to the stock market. I make a comment, and the International Whistle Futures Market staggers. Oddly enough, the comments I make about whistles also have an effect on Pork Bellies futures. But, anyway, remember this simple formula:
: Whistles as Greenspan : Stock Market. I also make a pretty good omelet.
I also make a pretty good omelet.
Q: Just how many people subscribe to Chiff & Fipple?
A: The newsletter, Chiff & Fipple, has 3020 subscribers (as of March 2002) and it continues to grow, although more slowly now. We have subscribers that have been around for five years or so. People also unsubscribe, of course. My favorite thing is when someone subscribes, then is automatically sent the explanatory introductory message, and then immediately unsubscribes.
Q: Ok. So, what's the relationship between the Tinwhistle Collective and the Crystal People?
A: I'm not really permitted to say. The Tinwhistle Collective is another name for the people who subscribe to the Chiff & Fipple mailing list. The Crystal People are those who are coming to feed us Special Food. I am allowed to say that the Geographic Distribution of the Tinwhistle Collective is important, which is why I periodically report on it in Chiff & Fipple. Fortunately, we have a good number of Australian subscribers. We could use some more. We need somebody in the Sudan, a couple of more people in south Oregon and we need someone in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. And in parts of Iceland.
Q: Do you have an all-time favorite whistle?
A: No. They are ALL my children.
Well, actually, they are pieces of metal and wood and plastic and so they aren't anything like "my children." (I don't THINK my children are made of metal and plastic). Also, my children eat more than my whistles. But, I sincerely don’t know how to answer that question. All of the major craftsmen of “good” whistles make wonderful instruments, each with their own character and qualities. I think virtually all of the “cheap” whistles have something to offer as well.
One of the features that is important to me is the stability of the whistle sound. A really smooth jump between octaves, good SOLID sound. Some whistles are unstable. Really unstable. It's like, you say something perfectly innocent to them and they get all hysterical and go running out of your apartment down to a phone booth to call their old boyfriends. I think you know what I'm talking about.
Q: Right. Right. Well, let's move on. What other projects are you working on?
A: Oh, lots of things. I'm putting the final touches on a grand ballet I've conceived and choreographed about NASCAR. My new musical about Jerry Springer ("Springer!") is previewing in Atlanta and, in what I regard as really imaginative casting, will star Meryl Streep as Jerry Springer. My new opera, co-composed with Philip Glass, about the life of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, is ready, and James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, has agreed to star as Jung. I'm very excited about that. This opera is a follow-up to my previous work which, as you know, included a two-man show of Freud and Jung reading their famous letters to each other, hip-hop style. I'm also working on an "Info-mercial" about particle physics. And the "Concerto for Whistle and Plate Tetonics in E-flat minor" is nearly finished.
Q: You interact with whistle players and whistle makers daily. What are your observations about whistle people?
Whistle people are uniformly smart, funny, kind-hearted, and generous. Exceptions are rare as hen's teeth. Also--whistle players often have sore necks due to bad whistle posture.
A: You're welcome. Can you hand me that bag of Mountain Dew?
November 27, 2003