Fifes & Whistles
|Duponol has become temporarily (we hope) unavailable.
Instead, we offer Moeck Anticondens as a substitute.
|NOTE: If the only thing you are ordering is one or two bottles, be aware that shipping and handling costs will be $8.00. If you are ordering something else besides, the additional cost for shipping a bottle of duponol is negligible|
Daily: After playing, remove excess moisture by swabbing the bore with a recorder brush. Just as good is a soft, lint-free cloth or Bounty© paper towel on a slotted stick or flute cleaning rod. Always look inside the mortises (sockets). Always keep the instrument disassembled when not in use to preserve the fit of the tenons (the peg part of the joints). Don't use a chair as an instrument stand. Chairs are for sitting, and sooner or later, someone is going to sit on an instrument left in a chair.
Occasionally: Apply clarinet bore oil or almond oil to a cloth, then swab the inside and wipe the outside with it. Try not to let the oil get onto the pads of the keys. You might like to use a small jar to make your own bore oil. From a health food store, get almond oil and mix it 50/50 with virgin olive oil, then squirt-in the contents of a vitamin E capsule to retard spoilage. Inspect the tenons and when they need lubrication, apply cork grease (or Vaseline® or even butter). If tenons become loose, they can be built-up with Teflon® tape or re-wrapped by an instrument repairman.
Storage and Transporting: Remember that extremes of temperature and humidity cause terrible stress in the materials. Avoid hot sun. In dry climates or during the heating season, keep a humidifier running nearby. Also effective is a violinist's humidifier (a moistened wick inside a perforated rubber hose); this may be inserted inside the flute which is then enclosed in the case. These measures are necessary to prevent cracking, especially cracking of the barrel joint on flutes that have a metal tuning slide inside. If you travel to performances in winter, moderate the changes in temperature and humidity: once you bring the instrument inside, keep it wrapped in cloth or stored in its case 15 to 30 minutes before playing.
A Flute can be rather complicated, with many keyed tone holes, and is designed to play in many keys with a careful scale on standard pitch. More training is required and proper technique involves high ideals of tone, attack, phrasing, etc.. The flute is a long instrument with a wide bore for playing in the first two octaves, and often the third. This configuration is ideal for playing mellow, multi-part music from many traditions, especially indoors with voice or other well-developed instruments. "Flautists" drink champagne.
A Fife has a simple construction, with only a few tone holes for direct stoppage by the fingers; it plays in only a few keys around B-flat; the scale and pitch may not be standard from one maker to another. Learning is easy, and technique is basic. The fife is a short instrument with a narrow bore for playing mostly in the second and third octaves, not the first. This configuration is ideal for unison projection of hard-hitting outdoor march music with drums. These musicians play in Fife and Drum corps; after the performance, corps play together informally in a jam session. Fifers drink beer.
Ireland and England have marching Flute Bands that play lyrical music. The lead is played mainly in the first two octaves, on high B-flat instruments that are similar to American fifes. Lower voices are played on B-flat, F, or E-flat flutes.
Applications: The Irish Flute is preferred at Irish Sessions or for solo playing; it blends well with fiddles or other band instruments. Harmonizes beautifully, and the best type of flute for playing all the ornamentation found in traditional Irish music. This type of flute is also good for performing historical flute music of the 1800s (see below). Moving away from the key of D requires the use of the (normally closed) keys. It can play in all 12 keys with increasing effort.
Flutes have been made in many short sections so they could be packed up, or to set the left-hand section at a more comfortable angle, or because good wood is scarce in long pieces, or because long reamers are hard to drive, or to taper the bore differently in each section.
Being no stranger to the industrial revolution of the 1800s, Germany produced thousands of flutes in the style of the day. Some of these flutes were treasured in Ireland and elsewhere. In some writings, "German Flute" refers to the design specifications, not necessarily to the country of origin. Today, we use the term, "Irish Flute" with the same freedom to mean the same instrument.
During this period, some instruments used a high pitch standard while others used low. Each Baroque Flute comes with an extra left hand body section for playing at low pitch (A=415) to be used in place of the A=440 section. Note: to use the A=440 section and just pull the head out would distort the scale; baroque players need to be prepared for both pitch standards. Traditionally, the Baroque Flute has one key lever for ease of playing D# as well as improving intonation and response in the 3rd octave.
Standard pullout is 2.5 mm (or 0.100", just less than 1/8"). At this point, the Professional Model Pennywhistle, warmed with the breath, will play a good musical scale at A=440. From one brand of whistle to the next, the scale will be just a little different. If you're used to another brand, spend a little time playing ours, and you'll soon be blowing it in tune (we designed ours to be in tune when blown with modest and equal pressure). In another blowing style, notes are played near the point of breaking, and unfortunately, we can't make an instrument that plays a good scale when played both ways. If we want the pennywhistle to be heard above the rest of the band, we always use a microphone.
Yes, o-rings were invented to seal joints, but you can be sure that the cork is sealing the tuning slide without them. We made the o-rings a standard accessory because some customers were sliding the head too far in, and the instrument played out-of-tune as a result. But now, the o-rings make it quick and easy to "plug and play" at correct pitch. Alternately, we could have designed the instrument without o-rings, to be slid in all the way, but then there would be no room to tune it a little sharp when necessary. With the extra space and o-rings to fill it, the Pro Model Whistle/Fife has a standard setting and also the flexibility of custom tuning.
Two o-rings extend the slide by 1/8" (2.5mm). If you need replacements at no charge, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Just a reminder: during storage, the Pro should be disassembled so the cork will keep its elasticity.
The Professional Model Pennywhistle has cork inside the mortise so the tenon has a thinner wall and smaller cavity, with the advantages just described.
Our traditional mortise-and-tenon instruments are designed to play a correct scale on A=440 when pulled out 2~3 mm. In a woodwind instrument, the holes don't move, so it plays on one pitch standard only (please read the sections about A=440 and Moving the Cork). With advanced techniques, you can learn how to bend pitch to match other standards (please read the section about Baroque Flutes). Meanwhile, make sure your friends are playing at A=440 !
I have taught drum corps fifing for many years and made fifes for 30 years. My simple advice is that individual fifers should not move the cork on their own. There are times, however, that the lead musician or instructor, given a full understanding, should adjust corks for the group.
First, get fifes that are all the same make and model. Second, hire a teacher who will teach you to play together. Third, get a tuning instrument1 to avoid arguments. Fourth, qualify the source of intonation. Fifth, breathe warm air through each fife before tuning it or tuning to it.
Let each fifer play into the tuning instrument, and determine what person (whether veteran or beginner) blows a steady pitch without wavering. Next, have this fifer play octaves of several notes (except E3, F#3 & B3). If the high notes are too high, then move the cork away from the blowhole. If the high notes are too low, then move the cork toward the blowhole. This player on this fife with this cork setting at this temperature is now #1, the qualified source of intonation. Above all, the other fifers must tune up to #1. When the section is in tune, even non-musicians perceive it to be stronger.
For one-piece fifes, play G3 on #1. Next, play G3 on #2 (the fife being tuned) and if sharp, move his cork away from the blowhole (if flat, move toward). Compare #1 to each of the remaining fifers and adjust accordingly; settings will vary. The low notes tend to blend in.
Two-piece fifes can be tuned better. Qualify #1 as before. To pull the slide out makes the fife flat overall2. Move the slide in or out to the best average as you compare high and low pitches. If fifer #2 is flat on the low notes while sharp on the high notes, then move the cork away from the blowhole and push the slide in (and conversely).
Summary of Effects: To move the cork away from the blowhole flats the fife overall, it flats the high notes in relation to the lows (it compresses the octaves), the low notes become richer, it will be more difficult to control the high notes, and the whole fife becomes louder while taking more wind all the time. To move the cork toward the blowhole acts conversely. Most manufacturers set the cork for the best overall performance.
If you need to tune your fife section, and you know the results of moving the cork, then try it. You can always go back to "standard position"3
Please keep in mind that moving the cork can never change:
1Make sure the tuning instrument is designed for a range up to F7. The analog electronic type (including strobotuner) is more stable (it clearly identifies the main pitch). The digital electronic type (cassette size) tends to "hunt" (it gets confused with overtones that change by the second).
2But C# goes flat in relation to D. The effect worsens and spreads to B, etc, as pullout increases.
3Theobald Boehm developed a standard position for the cork: If the bore is 1/2" at the blowhole, then set the face of the cork 1/2" from the center of the blowhole. On Boehm flutes, the bore is 17mm at the blowhole and the cleaning rod is grooved at 17mm for this purpose. Important! Boehm's goal was to make the high notes in tune with the low notes. On McDonagh fifes, the bore tapers in the body; for them to harmonize across three octaves, they should not be restricted to "standard position".
The original motivation was the use of the fife to make live music for square dances and American contra dances. Ralph practiced backup accordion all summer, then in the fall of '74, debuted with Walt for a contra dance in Storrs, CT. A year later, they recorded with a fuller band on the LP, American Country Dances of the Revolutionary Era (now on cassette).
D-Pennywhistles were the next wooden instrument; Ralph dubbed them Flageolettes. Some of the traditional fifers called for a reproduction of the Cloos fife, whose manufacture presented new challenges of tooling (i.e., a gun drill and the machine to run it). Tabor Pipes and Irish Flutes followed. Then came Baroque Flutes, Keyless Flutes, plus fifes in G and A for a mellow sound. By 1978 the scene resembled Santa's Workshop making Tin Whistles, but that hectic production gave way to finer craftsmanship after Ralph's retirement from teaching physics at East Hartford (CT) High School in 1992.
Additional drum corps fifes were the M-1, Colonial Model, and the innovative Waltfife in 1991. The Nutmeg Volunteers and Warehouse Point juniors played on the Cloos reproduction. Elsewhere, The Westbrook Drumcorps adopted the Calliope model in 1998 whereas Marquis of Granby converted its fife line in 2000 to the Spikebore (a.k.a. 'pole in the hole'). In 1993, Walt recorded Complete Music for Fife and Drum, now published internationally by Mel Bay.
Meanwhile, the Keyless Flute has established afford ability for Irish musicians. Contra dance musicians use the D-Fife because it holds its own when played with piano and fiddle; the band Swallowtail recorded a stellar duet on D-Fifes.
Both Ralph and Walt were trained as engineers, and those skills come in handy every day to keep things running smoothly. We're constantly improving our instruments while reflecting on our collection of antique and modern flutes to keep our standards high.
Please read the Chiff & Fipple interview at http://www.chiffandfipple.com/ralphsweet.htm
Stringed instruments are a different case. The strings must make the wood vibrate in order to send the sound energy into the air. In a flute, it's the air column that resonates, and if the sidewalls vibrate, they're stealing power (and quality) from the sound produced. Makers of organ pipes know that the walls must be thick enough and stiff enough to prevent destructive vibration like this.
Sterling Silver is 92.5% elemental silver, the remainder being copper or other metals. Sterling is the standard specification for most silver jewelry.
Coin Silver is 90.5% elemental silver; it is stiffer than Sterling.
The basic interval is the octave. For example, the octave to A (440 Hz) is also an A, but at 880 Hz. 220 Hz is another octave to A. Notice that these numbers are related by multiplying or dividing, not by adding or subtracting. Keep doing that, and you will have all the A's you will ever need.
The next most important interval is the half-step or semitone, which is the interval between any two adjacent notes on the piano. Mathematically, it equals the twelfth root of two or approximately 1.0594631. Multiply 440 Hz (A) by that and you get 466.2 Hz which is A#. Do it again and you get 493.9 Hz which is B. Do it for the 12th time and you'll be at 880 Hz, at A, an octave above your starting point. Going down the scale, we divide by this factor, so G# is 415.3 Hz. Here's a table of Equal-Tempered frequencies using 12 and a base of A=440 Hz:
Note: Multiply (divide) each number by 2 to get the frequency in the next octave, etc. Instrument makers use tuning machines that have a smaller interval, the cent. It's 1/100th of a semitone. This means that one cent equals approximately 1.0005778. It's an octave (multiple of two) divided into 1200 (multiplicative) steps.
I have not explained the just diatonic scale, or the harmonic ratios based on perfect intervals. All these numbers relate to Frequency, that is, the rate of vibration. In nature, an instrument is likely to emit one frequency, and others that are mathematically related to it. Thus, when you play an A on your Irish Flute, it's giving off sound energy at 440 vibrations per second plus some energy at 880 Hz, plus some at 1320 Hz, 1760 Hz, 2200 Hz, etc.. Notice that these numbers are whole-number multiples of the base or Fundamental Frequency, 440. The higher frequencies are called Harmonics or Overtones. The particular set of them, each at a particular energy level, creates the Tone Quality or Timbre of the instrument. Irish Flutes and Baroque Flutes are richer in harmonics than the Modern (Silver) Flute. For further study, visit http://www.phy.ntnu.edu.tw/java/OTHERS/fourier2/index.html
When your ear hears all these frequencies, your brain organizes them and identifies them with one simple frequency called the Pitch. While a Pitch can have a number associated with it (440 Hz, for example), acoustic instruments will have other related frequencies also going on at the same time. The Pitch is usually the lowest frequency in the set; sometimes it's the loudest and sometimes it's present virtually, but not actually. For example, if an instrument is emitting frequencies of 2200, 1760, 1320 and 880 Hz, your ear and brain will imagine a pitch of 440 Hz because 440 is the basis for which all those other frequencies are multiples. This will happen even if the frequency of 440 Hz is not present in the sound energy reaching your ears.
More importantly, a specification of A=440 means that the instrument is constructed to play a scale that matches those standard chromatic frequencies. Let's say you have a folk flute in E-flat, whose scale does not include the note A at 440 Hz. Nonetheless, a specification of A=440 means that this flute's diatonic scale in E-flat aligns with the chromatic notes derived from A=440 (see above for a table of frequencies).
On some instruments, the scale is less than perfect. In those cases, we take the whole scale into account, placing more importance on scale steps I, IV and V. These notes are then used as a basis for specifying the pitch standard.
For example, 'fife standard pitch' runs about 30 cents sharp of A=440 these days. If many of the notes, especially the important scale notes are sharp of A=440, then we cannot say that we have an A=440 instrument. In this case, what is the pitch standard? Use the following formula:
F=(12th root of 2)cents/100x FSTD or F = (1.0594631)30/100 x 440 or
F= 1.01748 x 440 = 447.7 Hz. Working backward, what is the musical equivalent of 500 Hz? Using our table, the nearest standard pitch is B= 493.9. Plug that value into the following formula:
Cents Deviation =log (F / FSTD) x 100, so 500 Hz is 21 cents sharp of B .
log (12th root of 2)
Many people would call this non-transposing instrument a "key of C woodwind" (in German or Continental nomenclature). We hesitate to use this phrase because the traditional flutes, fifes and pennywhistles have holes drilled to play an F# (not F-natural) and C# (not C-natural), so their primary scale is the D scale. Accordingly, we follow the English nomenclature and say these instruments are in the key of D, which means non-transposing, with a primary scale of D. Also important to remember: in this tradition, the right ring finger gives the lowest note (a D); in recorder tradition, the right pinky goes further to give the lowest note (a C).
While I was busy designing drum corps fifes, I noticed an analogous problem. I made some that played well on the low notes, but needed a change to the geometry before they played well on the highs (where they're supposed to play their best). At the same time, I held the opinion that recorders had a 'bottlelike' tone quality, favoring the first register at the expense of the second. Starting in the spring of 2002, I changed one of the old flageolette windways, and the whistle now had better control (although my modifications were ugly). The existing design didn't leave much flexibility for the changes that I thought were necessary, so although I'd found out what to do, I didn't exactly know how I was going to do it nicely.
Meanwhile, I experimented with other methods of construction. I made a few whistles based on the more respected designs. I studied all the major brands. I figured that it would be necessary to redesign the instrument completely, as well as the production methods. We arrived at the present design in the same way that any other maker would: look around for some inspiration, combine some old things in new ways, and add some original thoughts. If we think the result is better, we start making them and start calling the recipe our own.
The choice of taper in the bore is easy to explain. With my strobotuner, this is what I found: Straightbore whistles tended to be 15-cents flat in the 2nd octave, while the popular taper-bore whistles tended to be 15-cents sharp. These findings were consistent with my pragmatic understanding of taper bores: other things being equal, taper stretches the octave; more taper means more stretching. What I needed was a rate of taper halfway between straight and the popular tapers. A few quick calculations and I had my numbers. Fortunately, we had a reamer of this rate that was already being used on the D fifes and piccolos. Had this been tried before? Yes, but then abandoned to give more control in the high notes. I tried taper again, but this time, the high notes were under control because of my changes to the windway. This was very good news: the 2nd octave would be better in tune, with more control. Moreover, it meant we could use one body with either a whistle head or a fife head interchangeably (we'd always wanted to offer this package). With this in mind, I built a fife head for this design of body and it works beautifully. Also, the tapered bore gave a sweeter tone. But why the curved windway? It's a production consideration that gives us more control of the internal geometry. Also, the round windway tends to keep moisture from collecting. The choice of a round windway was not based on the wish for a "round sound" or because another maker uses it (while some makers have good results). By September, my covert operations had been exposed, but the prototype had won some blessings of management. My first twelve whistles of the present design sounded their opening chiffs in November 2002.
Other features of this model: the first 5 holes have equal (maximized) spacing to accommodate large fingers; the hole sizes give an improved musical scale; the length proportions (straight bore to tapered bore) stabilize the pitch as the player varies loudness; the use of Dymondwood(r) reduces maintenance and offers lasting beauty; the material for the block guarantees that the windway will always have a smooth floor; the internal cork at the mortise (socket) means a thinwall tenon that can be pulled out without upsetting C#.
Some fifes can't play loud no matter what. When the player pushes harder, instead of more musical sound he gets noise (hiss or squeak). Sometimes the result is just resistance: a feeling that the instrument is pushing back because it can't give any more output, regardless of increased input.
On other fifes, I feel locked in. I discussed this phenomenon with my flutemaker friend. He referred to some famous modern flutes, saying the tone was "solid." However, what he explained was that the player had no other choice, and with that limitation, where's the art? Once, I heard a flute concert like this. The tone was solid, but never seemed to vary, and I was bored very soon.
We all like to play loud, but this makes the lips tired. When playing softer, you should still get a good tone (to rest up, if nothing else). Sometimes, an instrument doesn't give me this feeling. I get the idea that it wants to play at one loudness level with one tone quality with one type of attack, while everything else sounds noisy or anemic. I like to vary the tone quality from sweet and legato to bright and percussive. If I'm in good form, I can do more of everything (loudness, tone and attack), but I want a just proportion of all those elements if I'm tired or just playing softly. In short, to say that an instrument has a good dynamic range means that I'm controlling the instrument, not the other way around.
When I build these ideas into an instrument, it becomes fun to play, and helps the art come across for me, and for anyone else who plays it.
|Benade, Arthur A.||Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.|
|Horns, Strings & Harmony. New York: Anchor Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1960.|
|"The Physics of Woodwinds." Scientific American, October 1960.|