Traditional Irish Music
Jerry Freeman is the world’s only full time, professional penny whistle tweaker. He takes those ubiquitous, mass produced whistles and reworks them into professional quality instruments. One at a time. In ten years, he’s tweaked over 20,000 whistles. (You can see and hear them online at www.freemanwhistles.com .)
According to Freeman, “Whistle is the entry instrument into Irish music. But sadly, instead of a doorway opening in, the poor quality of available whistles is a roadblock that holds many people back. After starting to learn on the whistle, players decide whether to continue to other instruments. If they’ve struggled with a less quality whistle, they may give up. Then a lifetime of music making is lost and Irish music is that much poorer as a result.”
For better or for worse, there’s no way Freeman can ever tweak enough whistles to solve the problem.
On December 23, 2013, a couple of last minute shoppers visited his residence to pick up a whistle for their daughter’s Christmas present. As they were getting ready to leave, the mother asked, “Did you hear about the work they’re doing at the University of Connecticut? They’re CT scanning old saxophone mouthpieces.”
“No,” he said, and the conversation went on for another half hour. As it happens, the University of Connecticut campus where the work is being done is seven miles from his house.
On January 23, 2015, Freeman met with Drs. Richard Bass (music theory) and Sina Shahbazmohamadi (engineering) of the University of Connecticut Digital Musicology Group. They, together with Dr. Robert Howe, are famous for using advanced CT imaging to create exact replicas of rare historic instruments, including saxophone mouthpieces made by Adolphe Sax himself. UConn is the only place in North America doing this.
“Both gentlemen were extremely gracious and offered UConn’s help to replicate the tweaked whistles I’ve spent the past ten years perfecting. CT scanning my tweaked whistleheads to create CAD computer files I can work with is the next step toward mass production, which has been my goal since I began this work,” Freeman wrote in the Indiegogo.com crowd funding campaign he has launched to finance the project.
The campaign is titled, “The world needs an affordable, GREAT penny whistle.” The first goal, of $4,400, was reached in just three weeks. That will fund the UConn project to scan Freeman’s whistlehead designs and purchase a used CAD workstation and 3D modeling software so the designs can be refined and prototyped in preparation for mass production.
Advanced 3D production technology is reaching such a level of sophistication, it will soon be possible to mass produce high quality parts in a wide range of materials without the complicated tooling required for conventional injection molded plastic.
Because the designs go directly to production from computer modeling files, using the most advanced 3D production methodology will save tens of thousands of dollars and massive time and labor. It will also allow for geometries that were impossible to produce in a one piece, injection molded plastic part, correcting the defects that have plagued mass produced whistles.
That will take care of the whistleheads, but then there are the tonebodies (the brass tubes with six holes) to be made as well.
Freeman has developed his own punch and die system to produce the tonebodies, but the tubing will have to be made to order by an outside supplier. According to Freeman, it will take another few thousand dollars to set up a working relationship with the company that will fabricate the brass tubing, so he will continue to keep the crowd funding campaign open. That, he says is less technically challenging than the whistlehead development, but just as critical to the project.
Freeman expects to spend another year or so refining and prototyping to perfect the designs that will go into mass production. Look for the first of the new whistles to reach the market in a 12 to 18 month time frame.
“For the first time,” he says, “high quality, widely available, affordable whistles can be the way most people first begin to play Irish traditional music, whether they are children starting out or adults who come to the music later on.”
That, according to Freeman, will change the world.
“It will strengthen Irish music everywhere, it will put more music in the world and it will give more people the joy of making their own music. What could be better than that?”
Add a Comment