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Calliope Design

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Doc Hawley plays a traditionally designed calliopeCalliopes consist of a set of tuned whistles mounted on a manifold that carries steam from some sort of boiler. Each whistle has a valve that is connected in some fashion to its corresponding key on a keyboard, placed near the whistles. The pressure used on calliopes is usually around 50 psi, although recent developments have limited that pressure. At the standard pressure, however, the calliope could effectively be heard for a radius of about five miles.

Whistles of the calliope on the Steamer NatchezCalliopes typically have around 32 whistles, although the real number can range anywhere from 28 (Water Queen) up to 47 (Mississippi Queen). The standard 32-whistle calliope has a musical range of C4 to G6, a span of two and a half octaves. However, the whistles are incredibly difficult to tune properly; doing so involves a large wrench and larger stamina. Even with the hardiest of souls braving scalding water and burning ears, calliopes don't tend to retain their tonal center: the calliopes aboard the Belle of Louisville, Delta Queen, and American Queen are consistently one half step sharp. To further confound the issue, the metal whistles shrink and expand every time the steam escapes through them, eliminating any chance for a song being in tune.

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