Priests, Penny Whistles, & Pots of Chili

sarahpennywhistleWell, another week has come and gone. This week we started off with trailer fixes as we pulled up into First Baptist Church in Holly, MI, but to make the beginning of this week even better, the church hosted a “chili cook-off!” From spicy chili to sweet, it was all very good on a cold Sunday afternoon as our team got to be the judges and play bluegrass! It’s always an added blessing to do fun fellowship with the churches we visit.

As you all know, music is a big part of our ministry. We all play different instruments. I play the flute and penny whistle on our team. And so, as suggested by Caroline, I will tell you how I learned the penny whistle.

The first time I played the penny whistle, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just asked to be on the Galkin Team and I was a counselor for music camp at Northland Camp & Conference Center. One day of the week the music camp gives a bluegrass music session where the campers can join in and practice with the evangelistic team musicians. Since one of my campers played the penny whistle, and I had just been asked to be on the team, Jessica Sassek, the penny whistle player from the Pettit team, pulled me aside and gave me a penny whistle to borrow and play with everyone. I thought, “What in the world!” “Why do they think that I can play anything!” She quickly told me that the fingerings for the whistle are the same as playing the D major scale on the flute. So, I walked back to stand next to my camper and completely bombed “Old Joe Clark.” It was good for me, in fact humbling, to stand next to a high school girl who blew me away with her skills.

For the next few weeks of camp, and into the weeks prior to traveling having new recording coming up (Consider Him), I practiced until my fingers were going to fall off. Not only did I have to learn the penny whistle in one key, I had to learn to play about ten penny whistles because each one is in a different key. Some, as small as a pencil, and some, longer than a regular sized flute! Reba had told me that the best way to learn the penny whistle was to listen to Irish music. She even took the time to show me, scare me rather, into practicing by showing me a number of songs that had penny whistle parts in them that made the “Orange Blossom Special” sound like “Three Blind Mice.” Seriously, these penny whistle players were crazy fast! I wondered how they were even breathing between notes. Immediately, a lump positioned itself in my throat for the next three weeks. This however, was very good for me. I even started watching videos on YouTube for lessons in trills, slurs, cuts, rolls, and many other little tricks that you do with penny whistles. Besides my teacher being a Catholic priest, I learned a lot.

You could go with the old, “PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE” routine, but over the last couple of years, I have also had the privilege of learning by simply playing or reading through books. The first book I used was called, “The Penny Whistle Book” by Robin Williamson. This taught me basics and helped my tone as I practiced. As for working on tricks, I used the book, “The Essential Tin Whistle Toolbox” by Grey Larsen, which was highly suggested by Jessica. Although, learning this has been a wonderful experience and a fun one as well, I have loved that learning the penny whistle has been used to further the gospel. I know God has even been kind to allow me to use it beyond ministry. I have been able to teach Lilly Galkin the penny whistle and I will also have the privilege of helping a church in Georgia with their Christmas program, along with Caroline and Josh, in a few short months. God has been good and He is still humbling me through music!

-Sarah Roe


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