Save the Children!
Perhaps a year or so ago, Norman Dannatt of the Clarke Tinwhistle Company made me aware of a whistle-related product being sold for children. "PennyWhistle: Learn to play the Penny Whistle." Then, Norman showed this product to me while I was in England. For reasons that will become apparent later, I joined Norman in his state of horror and outrage. Last night, I stumbled across a pile of these things on the marked-down table at my local Barnes & Noble. This thing is an atrocity and if there was such a thing as musical abuse of children, the people who produced this product would be in jail.
It includes a little book, with heavy cardboard pages typical of books for very young children, and includes a whistle. The whistle looks roughly like a Meg, with an important distinction which we'll get to later. It is designed and produced by something called BDA (Cirencester). Illustrated by Andrew Stephens. Written by Kate Kinsey. It is published by Grandreams Books Ltd./4 North Parade/ Bath, BA1 1LF UK. It is also available from Grandreams Books, Inc. 360 Hurst Street Linden, NJ 07036. (After I tell you more about this product, I think you'll see that the spelling of of GrandReams might be about right.)
Before I go any further with my indictment, I should say that the Court of Chiff & Fipple assumes the innocence of illustrator Mr. Stephens and book author Ms. Kinsey. In fact, the illustrations are exceedingly attractive and clever and the book is well-written.
So, what's the problem? Let's go to the pictures.
Here's a photo of the product. Sorry it's a bit blurry but I'm still really upset about Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck.
Here's the cover with the clever Whistle Man illustration which appears throughout the 14-page book. There's the little Sweetone/Meg-looking whistle. Notice anything weird yet?
Here's a sample of of the inside of the book:
Again, great pictures and, although you can't tell here, reasonably well written.
Incidentally, everything is written in the key of C, so we presume we have a C-major whistle. Right?
Now let's take a close look at the included whistle.
The whistle could be a perfectly serviceable instrument to play. The holes are the right size and spacing for a Meg or Sweetone, although more likely a D rather than a C. But, don't you think for a minute that I'm ranting about a D whistle and a text based on the C-major scale! No, no. We're talking about something far worse. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Approximately one inch has been cut off the end of the whistle. Presumably to fit in the package.
I kid you not.
This thing makes no recognizable scale, of course. I played it for my wife, improvising--which, of course, is all you can do with it. She rightly pointed out that it sounded like I was sitting cross-legged on the ground in India, half-naked, face to face with a cobra coming out of a wicker basket. Right. To my Western ears, it sounds like some strange middle-Eastern scale. I'm sure, however, to middle-Easterners it would sound like some hellish non-musical random collection of non-notes, too.
Oh, the humanity. These poor children. These poor parents and siblings of these children who will listen to them struggle to play. The poor people who will perish slowly and painfully from the bites of all of the vipers that will be summoned into the home.
The point is that the thing is absolutely useless. It's beyond useless, it's a fraud. Imagine the poor child who receives this set. Let's say it is some potential musical genius child who, as we all know, could learn fundamentals of music very well with a good whistle and a bit of instruction. He takes this home and tries to play the familiar tunes in the book and of course, what he gets is some kind of Balinese nightmare. (Oh, sorry, that's a Balinese dream, not a nightmare.) "I can't play this!" he will cry to his mother or father. Or maybe his little granny on a fixed income who chose not to buy her blood pressure medicine in order to shell out $7 for this obscene thing, wanting only to give her grandchild the gift of music. "I can't play this! What's wrong with me?", the child will say. "Am I cognitively deficient? Did you people fail to tell me that I have some kind of disability? I HATE MUSIC! MUSIC MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A STUPID PERSON. I'll spend the rest of my life and all my powers to try to BAN MUSIC FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH. I will destroy the musicians one-by-one from my secret lair. Mad? You think me mad? HA! I'll show you how mad I am!!"
Ok, maybe that's a little over the top.
Anyway, there you have it. I'm going today to chain myself to the bargain table at Barnes & Noble. What are you going to do?
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