Low Whistle

Name: Low Whistle.
Type: Aerophones > Flutes > Duct.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 421.221.12
Country: Ireland, Many.
Region: Many, Ireland, Great Britain.

Description: The low whistle or concert whistle, is a variation of the traditional tin whistle / penny-whistle. It is distinguished from the tin-flute by its over all length and lower pitch. It is most closely associated with the performances of British and Irish artists such as Finbar Furey and his son Martin Furey, Old Blind Dogs, Michael McGoldrick, River-dance, Lunasa and Davy Spillane. The low-whistle is increasingly accepted as a featured musical-instrument in Celtic music.

History: The development of the low-whistle carried on through the its earlier traverse flute descendants since the 16th century. Modeled after the the earlier 16th century transverse flutes in terms of finger-holes, the inner diameter of the conical bore and over all shape of the instrument.

Hence, the expression “Irish low whistle” is not denoting an Irish origin, but just an intensive use of this instrument in Ireland and, because of cultural similarity, in the whole British archipelago. While before long several notable instrument maker were producing low whistles, it is usually the River-dance tour of the 1990s that is credited with giving the low whistle commercial exposure and recognition outside traditional music circles.

Development: English flute maker and jazz musician Bernard Overton is credited with producing the first modern low whistle in late 1971, which he made with Finbar Furey after Furey’s prized Indian bamboo whistle was destroyed while on tour. Unable to repair it, Overton attempted to produce a metal replica and Finbar and himself spent many hours in the shed at the back of Bernard’s house in Rugby, designing, testing and ultimately perfecting the flute.

Usage: It is often used for the playing of airs and slow melodies due to its haunting and delicate sound. However, it is also becoming used more often for the playing of Irish and British jigs, reels and hornpipes, it being easier to produce some ornamentation on the whistle, due to the size of the finger holes. Although the tone varies subtlety from maker to maker. It is generally characterized by a more breathy flute-like tone then traditional tin-whistles.

Varieties: The most common low whistle is the “Low D”, pitched one octave below the traditional D whistle. A whistle is generally classed as a low whistle if its lowest note is the G above middle C or lower. Whistles higher than this are termed “soprano” or “high” whistles when a distinction is necessary. Low whistles operate on the same principles

Playing Techniques: Generally fingered in the same way as traditional penny-whistles although for many, a “piper’s grip” may be required due to the distance between the holes. They belong to the same woodwind instrument family of end-blown fipple flutes.

Citations: Bibliography: “about the instruments”. Retrieved September 18, 2014. “Whistling Low: History”. Whistling Low. 2001 ; Hannigan, Steáfán & Ledsam, David 2006 ; The Low Whistle Book. SVM Publications. p. 96. Notes: Including, among others, Brian Howard, Phil Hardy, Colin Goldie, Dave Shaw [who pursued a rolled conical design] and Jon Swayne [a tune-able wooden design] ;

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