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The Oboe, Recorder and Pennywhistle


The oboe is a member of the double-reed family; woodwind instruments whose sound is produced by blowing through two blades of cane, making them vibrate and therefore producing the sound.

The other instruments in this family of woodwinds are the English horn and the bassoon.The oboe is most often played in symphony orchestras and classical chamber music ensembles, however the sound the oboe makes is also suitable for other music.

Ensemble Galilei has incorporated the oboe into traditional Celtic music, while also using it in their arrangements of Medieval, Renaissance and early Baroque tunes. There are oboe-like instruments found in the traditional music of many different cultures. Most of these are more primitive double-reed instruments called shawms.

It was the European shawm of the early Renaissance that eventually developed into the oboe heard in orchestras today. The recorder and the Irish pennywhistle are both a type of flute descended from an ancient instrument called a flageolet or a fipple flute. They are distinguished from the transverse flute, or traverso, by the way the sound is produced. On a recorder or pennywhistle, the instrument is held vertically and the air is blown through a narrow windway created by a block or plug called the "fipple," in the end of the mouthpiece.

The earliest record of this type of instrument is found in Italian art music of the 15th century. Whistles can also be traced back to 16th century France, and show up in English sources from the 17th century. The high pitched sound of some of the whistles and records in England are often used to mimic birdcalls, or even to teach domesticated birds to sing.

Recorders come in all sizes and pitches: sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, bass and great bass. Usually they are pitched in the keys of F or C, however there are also recorders in D and G. In Renaissance music the different sizes of recorders played together in chamber ensembles called consorts. Often the recorder played with other types of instruments such as lutes and the viola da gamba, or accompanied singers. In the 20th century the recorder has become an instrument used by music educators to teach music to children.

It is thought that some form of whistle became popular in Ireland during the 18th century. Some sources claim that the whistle was initially used as an instrument by which flute and pipe players learned the idiom of Irish music, however eventually it was incorporated into the performances of Irish music and considered more as a solo instrument rather than just a teaching one. Pennywhisles are usually made of tin or brass, though there are also some made of wood and now plastic. Each whistle can only play in one or two different keys, so, like recorders, whistles are made in several different keys and in various sizes.