Another great whistle mystery is solved....................

Captain Picard plays the tinwhistle

or does he?

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:

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!