Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/181

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WHISTLES ANCIENT AND MODERN.

WHISTLES ANCIENT AND MODERN.
By M. L. GUTODE.

NO instrument, probably, has been invested with more various forms than the whistle. It would take a volume to present properly all of these forms and their passages from one to another, which I have no intention of doing, I aim only to distinguish a few points that may indicate to others how extensive a field there is into which they may explore if they will. The primary idea of a whistle lies in the making of a column of air to vibrate, in whatever condition. As there is no lack of means or methods for doing this, the infinite diversity of the forms of the apparatus for producing the vibrations and the resultant sounds is a matter of course. The most general form is the human whistle, which one can make sound—after a fashion—without much preliminary training; but many musicians have made themselves masters of its intonations to such a degree that, instead of the usual inharmonious and unmethodical discords, they can render with it the most difficult passages of elaborate musical compositions, I shall not dwell upon the means that may be employed to make the sounds sharper and to modulate their tones. Every one knows what effects are produced by inserting the fore and second fingers so as to turn the tongue slightly back as the column of air passes over it, or by sending the blast over the outside of the bent fingers.

If we seek other primitive whistles, we have them in the hollow-barreled key, the terror of authors and comedians; the famous willow whistle, cut when the twig is most sappy; the green dandelion stem, split along its length; the nut-shell between the fingers; the cherry-stone, which school-boys grind down so patiently on the soles of their shoes and perforate; the buck-horn, and all the other things which we are fond of contriving, in our early youth, with which to split the ears of parents and teachers.

Seeing that so much can be done with such rude means, it is not strange that the whistle was a well-known instrument in antiquity. The old Peruvians were past masters in the fabrication of whistles. They made them in great numbers, of earth, and ornamented with various designs and figures of animals. The porcelain-factory at Sèvres (Fig. 1) possesses two specimens of their workmanship, one of which resembles a nightingale; and, when filled with water, it produces a kind of warbling. There is an instrumental museum at the Paris Conservatory of Music, which is open to the public on Thursday afternoons. It was