Award Winning Whistles

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    Oct 12, 2012
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Filippo Lasorella works alone in his workshop in Rutigliano near Bari in Puglia, and produces a staggering 3-4,000 whistles per year.  Although he states that his job gives plenty of satisfaction, it is by no means an easy process, “I’ve given up counting how many hours I work during the day,” Filippo says, “when I start I start and when I finish I finish!”  What is the process involved in making a whistle? “It’s quite similar to making vases in that I only use my hands to mould the clay. For the more difficult shapes I tend to use chalk to help although this method is slightly more complicated.”  Occasionally Filippo uses a machine known as the 11 Torneo - think of the most talked about scene in the film Ghost and you have an idea of what the machine is like.  Once the shape of each whistle has been formed, Filippo then has the complex job of decorating them.

As a 3rd generation whistle maker, Filippo’s talent has been passed on to him by members of his family.“I used to watch my father and uncle when I was young and by the age of 13 I was helping them to make the whistles.” A flair that has developed over the years now leads Filippo into winning top awards for his designs.  He has won first, second and third prizes in a variety of competitions in recent years.

The idea of whistle making derives from an old Rutigliano tradition and every year on 17 January a whistle fair is held in the town centre. Known as the Ferie of Sant Antonio a Barte, in honour of Saint Antonio, the protector of pets, animals is a big theme of the fair. “Lots of my ideas are related to farmyard animals,” Filippo explains, “particularly pigs, ducks, horses and chickens.” Are there any traditions and significances about certain designs? “Well a ladies husband or boyfriend should buy il gallo, the hen for his partner because it brings a couple good luck, whereas pigs are a symbol of abundance.” Pointing out some of his designs, Filippo then reaches for a whistle that from afar looks like a simple clay pot.  However on closer inspection I see that it’s actually the shape of a rather fat looking bird with a dent in its back the size of a box of matches. When I ask what the dent is for, Filippo adds water to it, blows slightly into the mouthpiece, and the whistle suddenly sounds like a sparrow singing and perhaps this is one reason why Filippo’s whistles are so special, they are made with attention and thought and have ensured that he has gained a certain popularity. Filippo’s workshop has been featured on the Italian TV channels Rai 2 and Rete 4. “They heard about me through the whistle fairs where lots of collectors come, and wanted to learn about how I work and create the whistles.” 

My eye is then drawn to several character whistles that line the top shelf in his large open workshop. “The personality whistles are very popular,” Filippo tells me, “they’re satirical and poke fun at well-known people in authority such as the carabinieri and even politicians.” As well as police officers and polititians, Filippo makes priests, nuns and a selection of rather large ladies.  Is this poking fun at the Italian mothers that enjoy their food, I wonder? Filippo laughs without confirming or denying it, and simply shows me the ladies with umbrella’s that apparently represent nobel families. “If I see someone with a particular characteristic, maybe big ears or a large nose, then I’ll use that in my next design.”

Other much loved designs include the albero della vita, the tree of life that represents a new cycle of life, the sun that signifies happiness, and flowers that represent spring.  The only whistle that has slight contradictions is la civetta, the owl, that is known to bring sfortuna - bad luck, although at the same time, if the owl is a whistle it apparently brings good luck because old tradition has it that when you blow into it, illnesses vanish.

Not only does Filippo work alone in his workshop making whistles for fairs and bomboniere for weddings, but he has an important role running summer courses alongside a tutor for disabled children to help them to learn a new craft and socialise more. “The students love coming here for their 5 hours a day because it gives them the opportunity to do something they probably would never have had the chance to do otherwise. They’re pretty talented too. I show them how to make a whistle and help them come up with ideas. Then they have the opportunity to try it for themselves.” 

Despite Filippo’s obvious joy in creating his masterpieces, he appears convinced that his whistle making tradition is destined to stop. “I’m 52 and have a son of 12 but at the moment he’s showing no signs of being interested in following in my footsteps, but I hope that might change.”  In the meantime, Filippo’s work continues and his whistles can be seen in all kinds of tourist spots all over Puglia, from Alberobello to the cities north of Bari. It is for this reason that he says he has been “Quasi adotto come simbolo,” almost adopted as a symbol of the area. 

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