The Questions People Ask a Whistlemaker
Misha Somerville answers questions often asked about an unusual and incredible profession.
Photo: A whistle player in Scarborough, by Chris Porsz, 1986
Playing tin whistle has always been about going your own way in life. The instrument of the travellers, waifs, strays and vagabonds of this world. The black sheep taking their own route through cities, across mountains, sea and desert.
But most importantly, the tin whistle is an instrument of the people - it's accessible, affordable, portable and almost indestructible.
There is a basic form of whistle in almost every culture in the world, with existing examples dating from 30,000 years ago. Whistle playing technique may not have formalised in music schools like many other instruments, but this has only created greater diversity in the people, styles, techniques and cultures to adopt it. mk whistles is a celebration of that diversity.
Here in Scotland, the whistle carried many tunes through culturally challenging times. It is an instrument synonymous with grass roots culture and connection to the place you are from.
If the story of the tin whistle is about going your own way, the story of the mk whistle is about finding your passions in life and following them; living your life on your terms.
The idea for the first mk whistle was conceived in the Himalayas. As a teenager, mk's founder Misha Somerville was part of a small group fortunate to have been granted an audience with the Dalai Lama. Celebrations included playing ceilidh tunes for monks to dance to in a remote monastery high in the Himalayan mountains. The return journey via the Trans-Himalayan Highway - one of the highest and most treacherous roads in the world - lived up to its reputation as the bus the group were travelling in toppled into a river and was washed downstream. Fortunately, there was no loss of life but all the travellers' possessions had been seized by the mighty river Indus, including a kilt and a box of whistles. Returning penniless and whistle-less sowed the seed of an idea.
If the first mk whistle was conceived in the Himalayas, it was devised in Abriachan by Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. A process of trial and error may not be the quickest or easiest route to learn the craft of making musical instruments but, without 'instructions' to fall back on, the process becomes instantly riskier, deeper, more sincere and authentic.
Several decades later mk whistles are made by a dedicated team at their workshops in Glasgow, Scotland and have been adopted by musicians across the world, reaching new audiences in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.