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Re: Penny Whistles

Poster: Stephanie Malone Thorson <smt2@st-andrews.ac.uk>

Writes Rosine:

> Good My Lords and Ladies,
>    A friend of mine recently gave me a "beginners book" for learning to
> play a penny whistle, after hearing me bemoan my instrumentless state
> (my harp is unrepairable). While I like the idea of learning to play it,
> I do not know the history of the instrument, nor how it relates to other
> woodwinds (?). Is it period, reasonably close, or outrageously modern?
> Can the fingering be learned on it, and "transferred" to another type of
> "blow pipe" (maybe a nicer, more expensive one if I actually can produce
> music)?

The modern tin or penny whistle is a member of the fipple flute family
(say THAT 3 times), and thus kin to period instruments, as are recorders
(which in their current form date to the Baroque period).  Transverse
flutes (the flauti transversi of Baroque music recordings) are a late-ish
17th century development; for the Middle Ages and Renaissance "flute" 
meant a fipple flute, and the term "transverse flute" was used in the
Baroque to distinguish the the flute-held-horizontally from the recorder. 

Most modern penny whistles are made of some combination of metal and
plastic and are keyed in D; if you can get a *wooden* penny whistle keyed
in C (such things exist, I have seen them) you will have something fairly
close to a medieval flute.  Obviously the different keys mean different
fingerings, so you would have to relearn those if you switched from a D to
a C whistle.  The fingering of a soprano recorder would be closer to the C
whistle, although the whistle lacks the thumbhole that a recorder has.  
The House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park, Maryland sometimes can 
order wooden C whistles; I know people who have gotten them through that 

>    I'd like to learn something that can be portable, blend well with
> voice (duets with my friends), and can come in handy for dance (figuring
> that if I'm going to sit on the sidelines, I might as well be useful).

A C whistle will certainly be portable and would make an excellent 
addition to a dance band - for accompanying vocal performance it will 
probably not be so good, as it has a limited and rather high range, 
although with a little creativity, you could probably manage.

who knows *way* too many musicologists
Stephanie M. Thorson			*  SCA: Lady Alianora Munro
University of St Andrews		*  
St Andrews, Scotland			*  Clan White Wing
email smt2@st-andrews.ac.uk		*  Tarkhan, Khanate Red Lion

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