Slightly Bemused writes:

There are few things more wonderful as a father than receiving a call from your daughter. Which can be followed moments later by a terrifying term: ‘I need your help.’

Visions of the world ending, desires of being superman to turn up and save the day. And then you breathe a sigh of relief when she tells you what. ‘I need help with my homework!’ Nearly as terrifying, but maybe less daunting.

Last time she asked me for help, it was for her Maths homework. Since I was in school they have changed the way maths is taught. I was terrible. I knew the answers, but the method and that whole ‘show your work’ thing really tripped me up. As Mr Incredible commented, they changed math!

This time was easier. She was asking about the tin whistle. I actually knew something about that. I still have mine, a C silver, although which box it is in still eludes me. In school we had Wednesday afternoons for music class, and I recall many hours attempting to get the pitch right. Breath control was never my strength. But my teacher tried, and Fáinne Gheal An Lae was massacred many a time. O Ró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile did not do much better.

But I have friends and family who are much better than I. And of course we have the virtuoso talents of so many across the country. And the fact that a new development, the feadóg íseal, was developed within my lifetime. Music evolves, instruments evolve, but sometimes you do not expect it to while you are around to see it.

I used have one of those pairs of trousers with the long whistle pocket. I guess I lived in hope. I think we lost them once the superstores started getting trousers from other places, and I realised that for the past 18 years I have bought most of mine in shops in the US. Arising from my first visit where I literally arrived in the clothes I was standing up in. A fire in my apartment where I nearly lost the mother of my daughter meant I lost my wardrobe. I have never and will never regret that decision, but I have to be honest that fire terrifies the living daylights out of me even now.

I arrived the night before Thanksgiving, into a very busy Chicago. And there was a possibility that an air of diesel fuel still clung around me (it was a diesel heater went up and took down the apartment). I still remember the face of the immigration official. There was (maybe still is) a small green card that you said what you were importing. And I did not fill one out because I did not actually have anything.

I was also sincerely whacked by the long journey, and I wonder what I must have looked like to that poor officer. But he looked me in the eye for a few moments, grunted slightly, and cleared me for entry. It was late, so off to my lady’s brother’s place, and a shower. JC Penny had to wait for the morning, but that night I was treated to an incredible band while the man who would soon be my brother in law quite literally cooked up a storm. An incredible chef, he cooked the cake for our wedding.

This was before September 2001.

What has any of this to do with tin whistles? Well, I bought one for my daughter a few years later. Bringing it in through customs in the US at that point was a little more interesting. Understandable, so this is not a complaint. But I think the customs official has Irish ancestry. Whatever it looked like on the scan, once I opened my bag and she saw it, she chuckled, and after checking everything else, I was cleared.

When I arrived at her home, I gave it to my daughter. Now, I mentioned that I struggled with breath control. She was just coming up to her 8th birthday, but she just took it, wandered through a few scales, and then rattled off a beautiful tune she had learned on violin. She was 8, she had just been handed a new instrument she had never used before, and in moments was rattling off classical music. Her mother was a piccolo player, so maybe not surprising. I struggled for years to get a straight tune.

If anyone is interested, it was a D scale in brass.

Her next project is on bagpipes. That will be fun :-)

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic: Naomi Tin Whistles

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