Penny Whistle – Now with 20% more obsession!

So, if you’ve read my past posts, you know that I play a bit of the penny whistle (or pennywhistle or tin whistle or tinwhistle or Irish whistle or … you get the idea… I can’t even decide how I want to type it out half the time).  You also know that I recently had a small (very small) whistle solo part in a Christmas concert.  A funny thing has happened since that solo.  I’ve become fairly obsessed with the instrument.

When I bought my first whistle, it was somewhat on a whim.  I was interested in the instrument, as I’d come to love the sound of it in Celtic music (which I listen to a fair amount of — musical diversity is important!).  I tooled around with it every day for a month or so, then sort of just tinkered a couple or three times a week.  I am in no way a “good” whistle player — no ornamentation, can’t play fast songs, takes me a bit to learn a new song, can’t easily sight-read music for the whistle.

When this bit in the Christmas concert came up, it was originally going to be played by a flautist.  After all, the whistle is a wind instrument and fairly similar to a flute.  I let her borrow my whistles so that she could practice the part.  However, the flautist simply did not have the time to learn the fingering of the whistle and such for the concert.  It doesn’t help that the piece was in C and both of my whistles were Ds.  So, I offered my services, thinking that there was perhaps a 10% chance that I could work up the piece in the short amount of time before the concert.

When I saw that the piece was in C, I immediately ordered a C whistle (OK, 3 C whistles and another D, the D only because it was a set with the C and D).  I borrowed a rather poor wooden whistle in C — it was literally just a tourist thing from the Caribbean — and set about learning the piece while I waited for my real whistles to arrive.  I had the part memorized in about 2 minutes (I told you it was short) and even added ornamentation to the piece.  The end result, I think, it rather pleasing.  I nailed it during the concert, too, which helps.

Since playing that piece in the concert, I’ve been asked repeatedly about the whistle — how I learned it, where I got it, is there other music that uses it.  My favorite comment, by far, was relayed to me by the flautist who was originally going to play the part.  Her son thought the solo was awesome and he really wanted to know what the instrument was.  That was the first time I had played the whistle for anyone but my wife and daughter, and the first time I’d played the instrument outside the home, and the response has been overwhelming.

What this all served to do was renew my interest in the whistle, and since the concert I’ve been working on my playing almost non stop.  It’s driving my wife crazy, I think.  I have to remember to stop playing when she’s trying to nap…  I’ve become an active member of a whistle forum, begun reading books about the whistle, looking into proper recording devices… I can’t stop thinking about the whistle, about how much I want to play it and get better at it.  I’m still not good by a long shot.  I still don’t ornament my playing.  I still only know one or two pieces.  I still can’t sight-read music very well on it.  But I’m getting better.

I’ve begun learning a nice new jig, I’m working on my first reel, and I’m beginning to really think about and practice some ornamentation.  I really want to look into starting an Irish Traditional Music group here in town, perhaps getting others interested in the whistle or other ITM instruments.  I want to start holding sessions at one of the various Irish pubs around.  I want others to be as obsessed as I am!


~ by rev.mojo on December 23, 2008.

2 Responses to “Penny Whistle – Now with 20% more obsession!”

  1. Cool! Wish I could’ve heard the concert. I’d like to learn it myself… then again, I’d also like a Yamaha WX wind-midi controller (and, paired with it, the Yamaha VL70-m voice module).

    And bagpipes.

  2. The concert’s being televised in a few days. Both Dad and I are recording it, so I’m sure we’ll watch it when we’re having our immediate family Christmas. I’d be happy to teach you the little bit that I do know of the whistle. And as for pipes, I, too, want a set. But they’re insanely expensive. The whistle is a good, cheap alternative and can be used as an intro to pipe playing, if desired (from what I understand, there’s a good bit of crossover between whistle/pipe players). You could always pick up a practice chanter, too. I still need to get me one of those…

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