The low whistle is an instrument highly appreciated in traditional music circles and particularly Celtic music. However the noise level is often considered insufficient, especially in sessions.
To increase the sound volume I was inspired by the Quena flute which is well known for its sound volume. The combination of a low whistle in aluminium with a notch style embouchure gives the whistle extra volume. The characteristics obtained are remarkable with excellent dynamic performance and subtle tones and variations giving a sound going from pure and round to a one which can be altered at will. The sound is similar to that of the low whistle whereas its playing technique is close to that of the flute.
I have called this new instrument the Open Whistle.
The embouchure may seem like an obstacle in the beginning but in fact with a little practise you will soon be producing a full and powerful sound.
Marche des Charbonniers (Open Whistle G)
An Hini A Garan (Open Whistle F)
The Hunt in the Bog (Open Whistle Eb)
Casu (Open Whistle D)
The open whistle is a recent variant (2011) of the Low whistle which itself descends from the recorder, a flute existing since medieval times (flute in wood with 6 holes). In the 17th century, metal started to replace wood and alloys of brass and nickel were often hand rolled and welded. Metal flutes were found in Ireland, Great Britain, Canada and the U.S.A. There is an example of a Low Whistle from the 19th century in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. During the 19th century the manufacture of metal flutes flourished with the arrival of Robert Clarks Tin whistle in 1851.
The Low Whistle was rediscovered on the 1960s with the revival of Irish traditional music and it was on the request of Finbar Furey that Bernard Overton manufactured his first instrument.
Poorly received in the beginning as considered as a conversion or cross over instrument from the tin whistle to the flute, its reputation today is due to great musicians such as Finbar Furey, Davy Spillane, Cormac Bretnach, Brian Finnegan, Kevin Crawford, Michael McGoldrick…
Evolution to the Open Whistle
As the sound level of the Low Whistle is sometimes insufficient, the increase of volume was the aim of my research. From the beginning I turned towards the Quena style notch embouchure as it is well known for its volume. After trial and error with different profiles of notches I found a form which gave a tone very close to that of the Low Whistle.
A significant gain in sound volume but also a gain in the dynamic performance of the instrument which gives very interesting variations between soft and loud sounds giving an additional advantage in the playing technique and enjoyment compared to the Low Whistle
The Open whistle is made of aluminium with a stainless steel ring used for tuning. The instruments geometry is calculated in function of its internal diameter. A variation of a few tenths of a millimetre can have a huge influence so each time the parameters must be recalculated. I use a CNC milling machine and a metal lathe for manufacturing
The position of the hands on the open whistle is very similar to that of the Low Whistle. A technique called the « Piper’s grip » is used when the distance between the holes is large. However the blowing technique is completely different. The embouchure of the Open whistle has its specific technique where the tongue plays a very important role in the stability of the sound. Placed behind the lower lip and depending on the pressure applied it controls the direction of the air flow. Without this control it is difficult to play fast tunes.
The Open Whistle keys
The Open Whistle is available in five keys, C, D, Eb, F and G. Two octaves + 5 notes in the third are available , for example from D4 to A6 for an open whistle in D
The advantages of the Open Whistle
The notch style embouchure allows you to modify the sound as you please either with a pure, clear sound or one with breathing effects. It is also possible to produce a low or « Hard » D. There is a freedom in playing which cannot be found with the Low Whistle
How to play ?
1. Place the notch to your mouth which is very narrowly open.
2. The top of the whistle should be placed against the groove of your chin while the two top points of the notch should be almost touching your top lip
3. Apply a slight pressure with your tongue to the back of your lower lip as if you wanted to push it into the tube
4. Blow while varying the pressure of your tongue against your lower lip until you obtain sound.
Note to flute players : Do not blow into your Open Whistle like you do in your flute as you will lose sound when playing fast tunes. For the best quality sound use the technique of placing your tongue behind your the lower lip.
Fingering for the Low Whistle
Pipers Grip position
Is tonguing possible ?
Yes but you must first master the blowing technique before starting tonguing.
A stable C# on an Open Whistle (D)
To have a stable C# on an open whistle, I use a technique which consists of having 3 permanent points of pressure - the two thumbs and the index finger (bottom hand) or the two thumbs and the ring finger (bottom hand), the first option being the more stable.
The Open Whistle is very resistant and has no fragile parts. It is made of 2mm thick aluminium and is not damaged by shock. Cleaning using soapy water is sufficient.
Note: Clean the interior of the instrument often to have a maximum of harmonics.
The sliding ring is adjusted with teflon ribbon which can easily be found in a DIY store.