When I mentioned that whistles need good acoustics to be their very best, I began to make a list of places to play. My brother Alan and I used to team up on guitar and the banjo and do the entertaining around the campfire in the evening at St. Froid lake. Folks around the lake would hear the music and drop by the big fire and listen for a while and cook hot dogs and marshmallows. Some nights we would draw a large crowd and on the Fourth of July, we would have an all night party with fireworks over the lake.
There is no place better to play than a big lake at night with a strong echo and the woods for a background. I remembered that sound and when I vacation, I travel with a whistle tucked in my luggage. Overpasses and bridges make awesome ampitheatres for playing the whistle.
My brother in law in Connecticut possesses a railroad bridge made of solid concrete just down the street from his house. I discovered it on a walk to town and it is the greatest sounding place to play a whistle you could ask for. Passersby often stop and listen for a bit and remark that they would have never thought about playing music there.
Empty buildings of about every sort are sound stages just waiting to be tried. This is a picture of the largest barn in northern Maine and was the site of many gatherings and barn dances. Although it is now gone, many folks remember the wonderful acoustics it possessed.
I have played whistle for folks cleaning fish in Marathon, Florida in the Keys, ladies selling at yard sales along the road, people waiting for a bus, an Amish family in a furniture store in Lancaster, the Captain of a fishing boat looking for schools of fish, folks under my porch, visitors in the Acoustically Perfect Barn out back, and a lot of places in between.
There is a spot in the middle of my field that is bounded on one side by my neighbors house and on the other by my barn. If you stand exactly right, you get a double echo off both buildings and in the evening it is a great place to play some important music. I’m sure you can find places like that everywhere you go if you are just aware of what you are looking for.
I have recently had inquiries about the new Mystic Auto Flutes and Fifes. Why are they Mystic? and what is the difference between the two instruments?
Well…the Mystic part comes from the fact that most folks cannot see how the instruments play. Without exception, everyone picking up the instrument puckers up and tries to play it like a regular flute,because the hole you blow in doesn’t look like a hole at all! These flutes and fifes are made to play automatically and require no special skill that a whistle player doesn’t already possess. The fingering is the same as a regular whistle that everyone learned to play and the tone is very clear and air requirements
Because these instruments are purpose built ( by that I mean that I designed them to be the way they are and perform in a certain way) they do not fall into the “traditional” manner of flutes and fifes other than a general way. I believe they are the right instrument for beginning players, folks with a bit of stiffness in the joints and all of us who just want to have fun and don’t have that much time to practice. Every time I say things like this, someone will write and correct my assumption by saying that “its
not a toy or plaything…this is a serious instrument with great sound” as a lady in Colorado did recently. Its hard to be humble when you get a comment like that.
The Flutes are in lower keys, A,G,Low D etc. and the instrument is larger. The Fifes are smaller with higher keys, Bb, C,D etc. The fifes are pleasant sounding instruments and not shrill, but they can be played much harder than a whistle and still behave themselves in the upper octave. Folks that try the G Auto flute for the first time generally just smile, because they like the sound,and then they say “I’ve always wanted to play a Sideways instrument!”
The appeal of playing these instruments is the fact that you really look great playing in the flute position and others notice your ability and recognize it as being exceptional. It is a great advantage to play the Auto Flute, because you never miss a note and the sound is right on key every time.
The Sideshooter mouthpiece is adjustable by sliding slightly forward or backward to improve the ease of playing the high notes or adding a bit more volume into the low notes. Rotate the mouthpiece slightly right or left (thickness of a piece of paper) and you can add as much chiff as you like or eliminate it entirely. The best feature of both the flute and fife is that they are easy to clean and fast to remove moisture from the windway in high humidity conditions. My grand daughter Marilyn is visiting this summer
for a month and she has been playing both instruments in the various keys and making comparisons for me. She just grins when I ask if they play OK. “Sure she says, you can play it sideways and thats just better.” Appearances are everything when you are sixteen and looking your very best.
I have had several groups of children in to visit and discuss the possibility of starting a group to play the whistle. One of these children later came back to visit and told me that her playing had improved a lot by playing in front of her mirror at home. She puts her sheet music up beside the mirror for reference when she practices and can now see her fingers on the whistle in the same direction as the music chart that came with her whistle. She enlarges all her sheet music up to 11×17 inches on a photo copier so it is a very readable size to play from. This extra bit of effort has really improved her playing in a few weeks time. When you play in front of a mirror you gain confidence about your appearance when playing your instrument. You can practice the way you react to the music and show your moves with the whistle just like big time entertainers do. Tom Jones would be pretty dull if he sang and never moved! When learning a piece of music with someone else, it is really neat to stand side by side and be able to observe what the other player is doing from the same position. If you stand face to face everything is backward…no wonder I had so much trouble learning banjo chords from my Granddad. You will pick out your fingering mistakes much faster and learning some alternate fingering is improved. I find that everyone that tries playing in front of a mirror is able to learn the repetitious phrases in music and relate to them faster . Well, anyway give the mirror a try and you will be amazed at what a good looking performer you are and how interesting your whistle playing performance is!