bout the Penny Whistle
The Penny Whistle is a end-blown fipple flute like the recorder. However, it only has six fingerholes and lacks the thumb hole that is characteristic of the recorder. In this respect it is like the fife or Medieval flute. The instrument is commonly made from metal, rather than from wood or from plastic. Most instruments are made in one piece and cannot be tuned. Penny whistles are made in a wide variety of keys.
The penny whistle is a relatively modern instrument, being invented in the nineteenth century. The most famous maker of the instrument was Robert Clarke of Suffolk, England. He began making penny whistles from tinplate in 1843. His instruments were marketed as "Clarke Flageolets" and featured a tapered bore and a wooden fipple. They were also called tin whistles on account of their material. Clarke Flageolets were such a success that Robert had the instruments mass produced in a factory in Manchester. They were sold for a penny, and thus began to be called the penny whistle His company still produces penny whistles to this day.
Barnett Samuel was an important instrument dealer and manufacturer of the penny whistle during the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1861 he purchased the business from Henry Solomon, whose London company had been making instruments as a sideline to its primary products which were costume jewelry, and pen nibs. Initially Samuel ran the business from Sheffield, but soon relocated to London. His penny whistles from this period were made from sheets of metal that were rolled into a cylindrical tube and soldered, and thus do not have the tapering conical bore that is characteristic of Clarke's instruments. The fipple of these instruments were made from lead, and are thus toxic. In 1869 Samuel's third son, Nelson, was taken aboard the business, and it became known as Barnett Samuel and Sons. In 1901 it was renamed Barnett Samuel and Sons Ltd. and was one of the most prominent music distributors in London. Under Nelson's leadership the company adopted new manufacturing techniques including extrusion to produce seamless tubing. To this day most penny whistles are made with seamless metal tubing.
The twentieth century saw the introduction of plastic components on penny whistles. The first was the plastic mouthpiece, which was popularized by the Generation Company. It replaced the lead fipples, with a non-toxic inexpensive alternative. Much more recently, certain manufacturers, most notably Susato, have begun to make the body of the instruments from plastic as well.
Today the penny whistle is most commonly used to perform Celtic music. Flutes and whistles have been used in Celtic music since the Middle Ages. A whistle dating from the twelfth century was found during an excavation of High Street in Dublin. Written references to such instruments date back even further. These early instruments were called feadan, feadog, cuisle, or cuiseach meaning hollow stick or vein. During the nineteenth century the penny whistle became popular in Ireland. Since then it has been one of the primary instruments used by folk musicians from Ireland and Scotland.
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