Monday, 1 September 2014

Clarke's Tinwhistle Product Review Part One

One of the great pleasures of my life is stumbling upon true stories that resonate with my values. These stories seem to emerge when they are most needed and often through unexpected sources. The history of the Clarke's Tinwhistle is one such story. It came to my attention while doing research for a review of the instruments they produce. The Clarke Tinwhistle Company was founded by Robert Clarke in 1843 and is one of those rags to riches stories about entrepreneurial success that has the power to stoke the fire burning in every emerging musician or owner of a start-up. These days many artists find themselves being both an artist and an entrepreneur, responsible for not only creating their music but also producing it and marketing it. Robert Clarke would have related to many of the challenges musicians face today, and his ability to supply a product that met the challenges of financially strapped, Irish whistle players made him a legend in his day.

In case you're wondering, “tinwhistle” is not at typo, the word according to Clarkes is in fact spelled “tinwhistle” not “tin whistle” or “tin-whistle”. The original black whistle made of tin was invented by the Englishman Robert Clarke. It also became known as the penny-whistle or Irish-whistle. The term penny-whistle emerged because it was so inexpensive to purchase and the term Irish-whistle developed because the instrument was so popular among Irish laborers. The price of the whistle no doubt made it appealing to the Irish working class who often worked for meager wages at home and abroad. The tinwhistle's arrival in the marketplace was well timed to coincide with the potato famine that drove many Irish to seek new opportunities in Canada, the U.S., Australia, and other countries around the world. Wherever they went, the whistle playing members of the Irish diaspora brought the Clarke's tinwhistle with them.

This instrument of humble origin is still known around the globe. It is once again growing in popularity thanks to several on-line tutorials that teach how to play the instrument step by step. In addition to the tutorials you will find videos of renowned musicians such as James Galway producing wonderful music from the tinwhistle. According to Galway, “In the hands of a master [the tinwhistle] is a real virtuoso instrument”.

Yet none of its popularity and virtuosity could have existed without the entrepreneurial spirit of Robert Clarke. On the website for the company he founded, you will find Clarke described as “...uneducated, hard-working, deeply religious and devoted to his family.” This description is hardly the sort one would write about most people on Wall Street, so it's nice to hear that, on occasion, fortune turns its wheel to favour the little guy struggling to live well. Prior to manufacturing the now famous whistles, he worked on a farm where he was accused of poor work habits. Such accusations were unfounded and in protest he refused to continue working for the farmer. At that time he learned of the new material called tin and decided to use some of it to fashion the prototype for the now famous Clarke's tinwhistle. According to the company, the first one he made did not have wooden mouthpiece that subsequent whistles had because he did not own a saw. Instead he used one of the ribs from his wife's corset which he shaped with a file. From this meager start, Clarke became a wealthy man by making an excellent product that appealed to the masses. Through this product the joy of music was brought to the world; possibly to your own home too.

Check back for more information on the Clarke's tinwhistle in upcoming posts. Posts related to instrument reviews and other product reviews will be a regular feature on this blog going forward. If you miss a post, please be sure to check the archives or search the blog using the term “product review”.

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