Penny Whistle

by Teresa Jennings

We wouldn't be exaggerating if we said that this was one of our favorite songs. Written in a Celtic/folk style, the song is deliberately modeled after some of the contemporary music that blends eclectic styles together for a unique sound. For example, you might hear a bit of old English folk songs or Medieval drones that inspire thoughts of faraway places, perhaps long ago. On our recording, we included guitars, mandolin and a variety of unusual and ethnic percussion, synthesizers, and of course, penny whistles.

While you could perform this piece with piano, penny whistles, and a few other live instruments, such as percussion, it would probably have a different flavor than that of the original recording. When we conceived of the song, we included its arrangement and orchestration as a part of the whole. Going back to the discussion of live music versus recorded music (see Teresa's letter on the inside front cover), this is a song that could go either way.

If you do decide you want to perform it live, consider using some ethereal synthesizer sounds for the "distant" pads that can double the piano part. Congas, hand drums, udu, or any nifty exotic percussion could be added as well. Percussion can be played rhythmically throughout or it can be added here and there as inspiration hits. We did it both ways on the recording.

Two C penny whistles will work best with this song, as it is in dorian mode and they never actually use the B flat in the key signature. (For our recording session, Jim Farrelly used his D penny whistle and adjusted the F sharps to sound as F naturals. The bending and sliding of the pitch is, fortunately, characteristic of the instrument, especially in a piece like this one.) The melody is written out for penny whistle 1 throughout, though your performer may alter it however he prefers. Penny whistle 2 is meant to be played improvisationally whenever it occurs. You will notice that we chose to have it played in a higher octave than penny whistle 1 most of the time. This way, the two penny whistles are distinct and can weave in and around each other's melodic lines effectively. We believe that Jim did an outstanding job with this on the recording. Even if you don't use the recording in your setting, we recommend you let your students at least hear his tasteful rendition. It's very nice.

The lyrics of the song are definitely reminiscent of an old folk song with a simple rhyme and childlike sentiments. They repeat exactly the second time through after the D.S. and are echoed similarly in part 2, which is optional as always. If you have any mature singers who can join in to help reinforce either line, you might find it worthwhile. For instance, select a few eighth grade girls to sing part 2 when it enters at 17 after the D.S. Or draft a fellow teacher or two to join in as well. Even though the song is simple and easily learned, you might find that older singers will enjoy singing it, too.

At the end of the song, the singers and the instrumental backgrounds decresendo through the four times at measure 62. The penny whistle continues to improvise until the very end when the sound rests on the final fermata. It is a subdued and peaceful ending.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.