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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 11:18 am 
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Ofcourse this discussion has been repeated a few times across the various forums here. Let's restate again 'flute' was a catch all phrase (from Feadóg) that included, whistle, fife and what we understand as 'flute' today, the concert, German or whatever they called it flute.

A lot of people played 'the flute', just like a lot of people played the concertina. It was handy.

Hammy's writing on the subject(for example the article 'History of the Irish Flute') gives some outlines to the various scenarios at play.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 4:38 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
In the quote you added he goes on to say that anyone serious as a musician--anyone desiring to make money at it--played the fiddle or the flute: "No one but a born musician, or one who had no other outlet for his musical instinct, was likely to learn to play the flute."


I think you meant to say "played the fiddle or the pipes" in the above?

"The halt, lame, and blind, driven to the practice of music as a profession, invariably chose the Union pipes or fiddle, as the most available instrument to touch the sensibilities of the people".

Interesting the choice of the word "available".

I think O'Neill is a difficult source, given he includes the whistle in his omnibus "flutes". The economics of whistle and flute availability are different now and were surely different then. But we have few sources to work with!


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 5:30 pm 
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Terry McGee wrote:
PB+J wrote:
In the quote you added he goes on to say that anyone serious as a musician--anyone desiring to make money at it--played the fiddle or the flute: "No one but a born musician, or one who had no other outlet for his musical instinct, was likely to learn to play the flute."


I think you meant to say "played the fiddle or the pipes" in the above?

"The halt, lame, and blind, driven to the practice of music as a profession, invariably chose the Union pipes or fiddle, as the most available instrument to touch the sensibilities of the people".

Interesting the choice of the word "available".

I think O'Neill is a difficult source, given he includes the whistle in his omnibus "flutes". The economics of whistle and flute availability are different now and were surely different then. But we have few sources to work with!



Yes, fiddle or the pipes!

He is a somewhat difficult source. In histories of jazz most of the focus is on tenor and also sax, trumpet, and piano, more or less in that order, and the reason has to do with ideas about progress an innovation. Jazz is supposed to be moving forward and to have an avante garde and stylistic breakthroughs; it's usually viewed more through the lens of art music than folk music, and the musicians who fit that model tend to be horn players. It's a perfectly good way to see the history of jazz but it's not the only way, and it has its own problems. It's a "narrative frame" just like O'Neill's claim about the flute are a narrative frame.

I'm still trying to figure out O'Neill's specific way of understanding what Irish music is. Sometimes it's the mother at her chores lilting, but usually it's some virtuoso who is way better than anyone else. His letters spend a fair amount of time rating this or that player above other pipers or fiddlers. His model isn't really folk music in that case, it's virtuoso performance.

You would know better than me--had flute players figured out how to play irish dance tunes yet? It may be a dumb question, but I really don't know. The history of guitar, for example, is full of guys figuring out how to get the guitar to do sort of what a piano does, or sort of what a horn does, or trying to sound like they have a bass player when they don't. When I listen to those Tom Morrison recordings I hear a guy figuring out how to make the flute do stuff it doesn't easily do. I wonder if, in O'Neill's day, much before the 1920s, flute just wasn't played the way it is now? I wonder if O'Neill played the flute like Morrison, or if he played it in a different way that left the dance tunes to the pipers and the fiddlers?


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 5:34 pm 
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Terry McGee wrote:
PB+J wrote:
I think O'Neill is a difficult source, given he includes the whistle in his omnibus "flutes". The economics of whistle and flute availability are different now and were surely different then. But we have few sources to work with!

It's interesting that in the famous group photo of the Irish Music Club of Chicago -- where O'Neill choose to hold a flute by the way -- there are no whistle players. There are as many flute players as fiddlers (both outnumbered by pipers), and every flute except possibly one is a keyed model. Two look like they have ivory head joints.

I know the mythos surrounding "Irish flute" is that these were cast-offs from orchestra players moving to the Boehm system, available cheaply and secondhand. I'm not so sure about that. The keyed flutes these gentlemen were playing might have been of equal value at least to the fiddles in that group photo, which probably wouldn't have been high-end Classical orchestra examples.

Of course this was an urban folk club, with members that had good paying jobs. Many of them in O'Neill's police force. What people were playing back in Ireland out in the countryside, might have been very different.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 7:04 am 
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Conical bore wrote:
It's interesting that in the famous group photo of the Irish Music Club of Chicago -- where O'Neill choose to hold a flute by the way -- there are no whistle players. There are as many flute players as fiddlers (both outnumbered by pipers), and every flute except possibly one is a keyed model. Two look like they have ivory head joints.

I know the mythos surrounding "Irish flute" is that these were cast-offs from orchestra players moving to the Boehm system, available cheaply and secondhand. I'm not so sure about that. The keyed flutes these gentlemen were playing might have been of equal value at least to the fiddles in that group photo, which probably wouldn't have been high-end Classical orchestra examples.

Of course this was an urban folk club, with members that had good paying jobs. Many of them in O'Neill's police force. What people were playing back in Ireland out in the countryside, might have been very different.



Yes there are a lot of flute players in that picture, and you must be right that these aren't cast offs from lord so and so back in Ireland. Mr. Gumby makes a great case for the importance of fife and drum bands, and also how much imprecision there was abut the word "flute," which included fifes, whistles, and transverse flutes. Maybe you learned the flute in ireland in fife and drum bands and in 1900 they were still trying to make it work for dance music?

And you are right to point out these are people with a solid income. The 1897 Sears catalog shows a lot of "meyer flutes" for sale, ranging from around 2 dollars to around 10. (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31158001963940&view=1up&seq=530) An ordinary policeman in 1900 made $1000 a year--O'Neill was very proud that he got the police a 100 dollar raise while he was chief. So the average patrolman made about 20 dollars a week. Flutes were pretty affordable.

I don't think O'Neill ever played the violin with any proficiency. He says that as a young man he wanted to but there were none available so he started on the flute. He does say that he played the highland pipes, and pretty well, but that he was not a performer.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 7:42 am 
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You raise an interesting question, Conical. Go to Google, and search under images for Ceili Band. How many whistles do you see, before you get too bored? "None" is looking good as an immediate response.

As a former whistle player (and former Mary Bergin student and a great whistle enthusiast), I find that strange. Any thoughts, people?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:22 am 
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Terry McGee wrote:
You raise an interesting question, Conical. Go to Google, and search under images for Ceili Band. How many whistles do you see, before you get too bored? "None" is looking good as an immediate response.

As a former whistle player (and former Mary Bergin student and a great whistle enthusiast), I find that strange. Any thoughts, people?



Me too! It's strange. O'Neill kind of suggests that serious musicians played pipes or flute, but as you pointed out he also says that people with a disability who couldn't make a regular living, blind people, for example, were steered to pipes or fiddle, not to whistle or flute. I wonder if it's just that the whistle, being dirt cheap, wasn't regarded as "serious?" It's a children's toy? O'Neill's family has a Clark-looking whistle he is supposed to have carried with him, for memorizing tunes. Mass produced whistles enter the market in the 1850s?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 1:44 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
Terry McGee wrote:
You raise an interesting question, Conical. Go to Google, and search under images for Ceili Band. How many whistles do you see, before you get too bored? "None" is looking good as an immediate response.

As a former whistle player (and former Mary Bergin student and a great whistle enthusiast), I find that strange. Any thoughts, people?

Me too! It's strange. O'Neill kind of suggests that serious musicians played pipes or flute, but as you pointed out he also says that people with a disability who couldn't make a regular living, blind people, for example, were steered to pipes or fiddle, not to whistle or flute. I wonder if it's just that the whistle, being dirt cheap, wasn't regarded as "serious?" It's a children's toy? O'Neill's family has a Clark-looking whistle he is supposed to have carried with him, for memorizing tunes. Mass produced whistles enter the market in the 1850s?

I suppose we'd have to ask the folks in question for something more definitive, but that's out. But hazarding a guess, I see two possibilities: First, that the whistle might have been seen primarily as a casual, quick-and-dirty means of running through tunes, mostly in private or intimate settings, which leads me to my second conjecture: Céilí bands. A flute can put out a lot of volume if you want it, whereas a whistle's volume is pretty fixed and subject to being drowned out. Might those be factors?

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 2:34 pm 
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Gee, I play in a session with a whistler. They carry very well, especially because they are high-pitched. Maybe whistles weren't sufficiently photogenic?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 2:53 pm 
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jim stone wrote:
Gee, I play in a session with a whistler. They carry very well, especially because they are high-pitched.

To be honest, that's my opinion as well. We've had whistles in our céilí bands and I could hear them just fine. But perhaps it was a perception of the times, or that whistles weren't as well-made then as they are now.

As revered as the whistle is among modern Trad enthusiasts, there's no reason to think that it couldn't have had a much lesser status back in the day, being thought of as unsuitable for serious performance; kind of like walking around in your undies.

jim stone wrote:
Maybe whistles weren't sufficiently photogenic?

Seen in the company of pipes, fiddles and flutes, you may be onto something. But picture it: a bunch of big burly men with their little whistles. Hardly awe-inspiring, PR-wise.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 7:38 pm 
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Modern whistles carry well (sometimes too well - well beyond the musical capability of the air supply!), but perhaps the whistles back then didn't? I'm remembering how quiet and unreliable my conical Clarke C whistle used to be. And the all-metal ones with the lead in the mouthpiece ditto, from memory, though I imagine they were more mid 19th c than late 19th?

Heh heh, given memory loss is a classic symptom of lead poisoning, perhaps I shouldn't be trusting my memory?

Now, what was I saying.....?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 10:29 pm 
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My vote is that whistles just didn't have the volume to be considered useful for a dance, nor for a crowded session.

The session-bore whistle is a modern invention... post 1990s?


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2019 6:18 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
Seen in the company of pipes, fiddles and flutes, you may be onto something. But picture it: a bunch of big burly men with their little whistles. Hardly awe-inspiring, PR-wise.


That's another odd thing--there's all those cops with flutes in 1900, but as I think we've discussed before, in the US the flute is now an instrument girls are much more likely to play. It may be changing (I hope it is) but still if you look at any high school band, there will be very very few males in the flute section. Somewhere in the twentieth century, at least in the US, the flute switched genders.

I'm a big guy, 6 foot 4 and not svelte. My daughter says I look silly with a whistle, and I believe her!


My sense--and tell me if I'm wrong--is that in the 19th century ITM was almost entirely a solo art. O'Neill mentions single pipers and fiddlers at dances. Lots of other sources describe musicians playing alone as well. I don't know if that was economics--two musicians would cost twice as much--or not. Probably people got together in their homes and played, in unison or sequentially. (Glassie's Ballymenone book, which wants to pretend 1970 is 1870, describes P. Flanagan and his friends playing serially, not in unison, in Fermanagh in the 1970s). Public group playing of ITM seems to me to have been a 20th century development?

If you were experiencing music as a soloist playing at dances, the fiddle and the pipes have some advantages in that they can be polyphonic? A whistle or a flute are confined to single notes.

Is a fife louder than a whistle? I've never played a fife and the last time I heard fifes I wasn't paying attention. A piccolo is very audible but I think that's because it occupies a frequency range most instruments have the good sense to leave alone, just like the whistle.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2019 6:37 am 
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If you were experiencing music as a soloist playing at dances, the fiddle and the pipes have some advantages in that they can be polyphonic? A whistle or a flute are confined to single notes.


t was not uncommon, at least during the early and mid 20th century, to have more than one musician playing for a dance. Two to four musicians would be sat on a table at house dances and play for the sets. This practice is well documented.

The iconography of the period does show single musicians as well although you would have to question how effective they would have been in a full country kitchen with dancers in full flight.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2019 10:56 am 
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"Madman" says it's up to industry to change how it does things rather than the consumer. This is the kind of wobbly economics the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Venezuela, Norway, India, et al followed at various times disastrous to their existence. Industry listens to what consumers want and if it refuses to supply what consumers want, where consumers want it, or at the right quantity, quality and price, Industry goes the same disastrous way of the aforementioned economies. Reality is as as ruthlessly simple as that, whatever your politics.

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