Chiff and Fipple Forums

Whistle and Myth
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Author:  Amergin [ Sat Dec 17, 2016 9:18 am ]
Post subject:  Whistle and Myth

I am not sure if this is the appropriate sub-forum for this inquiry, but I was wondering if anyone had any resources on myth, legend, and/or historical anecdote for the whistle (or flute and related wind instruments)? What I mean is that with an instrument as prestigious as the harp was historically, there are many legends and stories associated with the instrument, whether it be the instrument of pagan deities or the stories about the three magical effects of the skilled harper (filling the audience with joy, tears, and lulling them to sleep) among various others. Similarly with the bagpipes in Scotland you get tales like the one surrounding MacCrimmon's silver chanter and more generally tales of otherworldly/fairy teachers to skilled musicians.

Are there any tales like these specifically associated with the whistle or, if not, the flute? As previously mentioned, it is known that the harp was a prestigious instrument associated with the filid/bards in Celtic culture, but what was the cultural view of the whistle if any?

Author:  An Draighean [ Sat Dec 17, 2016 3:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Whistle and Myth

Um, no offense to whistle players (I play it myself), but the whistle is just not difficult enough to justify the intervention of the siĆ³ga.

Author:  Amergin [ Sun Dec 18, 2016 10:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Whistle and Myth

Perhaps you are correct. In my brief search for some history, legends, and cultural perceptions of the whistle and related instruments in Ireland and Scotland, I came across this:

Principally seen as a rustic toy associated with shepherds and bucolic idylls, the whistle was generally not taken seriously in Scotland by dance masters, music teachers, publishers, etc. In 18th and 19th century tune collections, a great many of which advertised their suitability for the german flute, there are few references to whistle. Exceptions are The Caledonian Museum of c.1810, which contains tunes "adapted for the Flageolet" (a whistle-like instrument with various designs), and the 1800 Broderick & Wilkinson Selection, in which the tunes are adapted for the Harp, Pianoforte, Violin, or Tabor & Pipe (the tabor pipe is a three-hole whistle mainly used in English Morris music).

However, there is little doubt that the whistle was used by folk musicians. One such was Wee Willie White who busked the streets of Glasgow in the first half of the 19th century. A little later Carl Volti (born Archie Milligan in 1849), who became well known as a composer of classical music and fiddle tunes originally started with the whistle and formed a whistle band in his youth.

From here:

It does seem the mixture of simplicity, ease of playing, and perhaps also in recent times the use of the whistle as a child's or beginner's instrument has lead to a low reputation of the whistle as a "toy" rather than a serious instrument. For me the beauty of the sound of good whistle playing seems to make such a perception irrelevant.

On another note, we know that the low whistle is a modern invention, but I wonder if there were not older if not medieval or ancient precedents to the low whistle? Are there no legends or myths related to even the flute?

Author:  pancelticpiper [ Sat Dec 31, 2016 7:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Whistle and Myth

I've attended talks by Gaelic scholars (it's all beyond my pay grade) who have said that we just don't know what instruments are being referenced by some of the old Irish words used in the ancient annals.

So you might find references and stories but not know what exact instrument is involved.

Here's an example of the sort of speculation that surrounds old Irish instrument. Some of the stuff here is speculative and fanciful.

Author:  Magickdancer [ Fri Jan 06, 2017 8:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Whistle and Myth

I found through a bit of research that the whistle, or flute, is one of the oldest known instruments on earth. Here is a photo of the oldest one known, at The British Museum. It was found in France, and is estimated to be about 32,000 years old. ... -in/100874

I think that's pretty cool! I'm sure there are some stories out there. Just have to do some old fashioned digging and reading and searching.


Author:  nicx66 [ Sun Jan 08, 2017 5:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Whistle and Myth

One reason that there is little written about the whistle is that the instrument we know as the tin whistle/pennywhistle comes on the scene around 1840. Specifically, Clarke starts producing them in 1843. There may well have been earlier examples, but there is no evidence to confirm this. There are other fipple flutes that do pre-date the whistle, the flageolet probably being the closest relative. Robert Louis Stevenson writes a bit about the tin whistle we know in a book titled "The Wrong Box", in chapter XII, Probably the Last Appearance of the Broadwood Grand p.155-158

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