: flutes or whistles?


Globular flutes, whistles, ocarinas, bird calls... The clay whistles have many names in the books or articles about this subject. How can we call the musical instruments of this site?

Whistle, various bird calls, ocarina, "ocasiflûte"!
  The two last names can be excluded. The ocarina designates a precise instrument created at the end of the 19 th century. And for the name "bird call", it refers to the function of an object created to call an animal by imitating the noise or song it makes.
This function rarely apply to the clay whistles and more, the bird calls are various. From a musicological point of view, this name cover instruments of different musical category (various aerophones, idiophones, membranophones).

Thus, it remains to choose between flutes and whistles.

  In the usual vocabulary, anybody easily makes the distinction between a whistle, associated with a simple calling instrument and a flute being used to interpret the musical pieces. However, to define these two words is much more complex.

In organology, whistles and flutes are classified in the same instrumental category whatever is the selected classification .
The musical principle for flutes or whistles is the same: the air is put in vibration by the rupture of an airflow on an edge. In some books, a whistle is a short flute with an acute sound. Others consider that whistles have no playing hole or eventually one. All recognize the difficulty to distinguish these instruments.
In English the word "whistle" is also ambiguous. The "penny whistles" or the "Irish whistles" are recorders. Usually, in the English literature, the prehistoric or medieval bone flutes are simply called "whistles".
To distinguish arbitrarily between the flutes and the whistles according to the number of playing holes is not satisfying. When a potter makes one or two playing holes, he doesn't imagine to make different musical instruments.

Thus, the distinction flute/whistle cannot be based on a musical criterion. It's necessary to look at the use of the instrument to separate the two words.
A more satisfactory distinction can be found considering that a flute is made for music and a whistle limited to a signal function. However, in many cases a whistle is not limited to a calling function.

The only possible distinction is the purpose of the object when it was made. When the object is created to offer a series of sounds intended to be combined in a coherent way and in an established code, it is about a flute. It is the case of the ocarinas and the globular flutes. On the contrary, the pitch of the whistles is not the objective of their makers.
The creation of the whistle sound is spontaneous, out of the musical codes. But spontaneous does not mean anarchistic. The globular whistles can produce thirds, quads or fifths. Also, the referee uses his whistle to produce sounds according to an established code. But in these two cases, the pitch of the whistle sound is not codified and is not intended to harmonize itself with other instruments what is different speaking of the globular flutes or flageolets.

In some cases, only the strident character of the sound is required (tubular whistles). But, generally, the potter tests the globular or water whistle after firing it and when he says "it works well", it means for him that the whistle has a harmonious sound.

  Whistles and music:

Although not created for the music, the whistles were used by major composers. The "Toy Symphony" is the famoust example. Attributed to Mozart or Haydn according to the different authors, it seems that it was created in fact by Mozart... Léopold, the Wolfgang Amadeus's father.
In this piece, globular flutes and water whistles join the wooden trumpets, triangles and rattles.