- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

YORK, Pa. (AP) - If any York-area residents were concerned that their ears were playing tricks on them heard the tune to “O Holy Night,” ”Frosty the Snowman” or “Silent Night” drifting in the breeze Saturday afternoon can stop thinking their ears are playing tricks on them.

“Whistle master” Don Ryan played several Christmas carols on the factory whistle at METSO Minerals just after noon in a warm-up for his annual Christmas morning performance - but not before state Rep. Kevin Schreiber and other elected officials presented him with a certificate of recognition.

Schreiber, D-York City, said that York, like many other small communities, has plenty of traditions it holds dear.

“This is one we take for granted,” he said. But York would miss it if it were gone, he said.

“Man, you really caught me today,” said the tuxedo-clad Ryan as he wiped his face with a handkerchief.

Ryan has played music on the steam whistle for 60 years, since he was 11. He’s been featured on big national news channels, including CNN, ABC and NBC, he said.

Live stream: As he does every year, he’ll play several carols at 12:15 a.m. on Christmas. There’s a new wrinkle this year - a live stream of the steam whistle concert will be available online at yorkpafactorywhistle.com.

The room the whistle’s controls are in is nondescript, with plain white walls enclosing a space that holds a table, some chairs and some odds and ends. The controls of the whistle’s pitch don’t stick out; a large tan lever that sticks out of the ceiling by the near wall, next to a pressure gauge. A horizontal bar bears the marks indicating where the lever should be for each note of the scale in the whistle’s two-octave range.

While operating the whistle, Ryan, bracing himself with his feet set wide apart, yanks the lever from one note to the next as his son Scott conducts, pointing at the next note on the sheet music hanging on the wall; he’s making sure the master whistler doesn’t lose his place in the song as his eyes shift from the music to the lever and back again.

A sign just to his right reads “World’s Loudest Music.” That’s not an exaggeration - Ryan and his factory whistle were certified in 2002 by Guinness World Records as the loudest music “without amplification from a nonmusical instrument.”

The whistle is loud inside the room, but only a couple steps short of deafening right outside, just under where the whistle lets off steam - well, compressed air, which replaced steam as what powers the whistle in 2010. Guinness World Records registered the whistle at 134.1 decibels in 2002. To put that in perspective, jet engines normally reach about 115 decibels.

Ryan mentioned a man he’d heard about who played a similar whistle in a boat in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor long ago. He said that guy had it easy when it came to refining his art - he would go out to sea and have the Atlantic Ocean as his practice space. Ryan doesn’t have that luxury.

“When I practice, everybody hears it,” he said.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1x02X3F

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Information from: The York Dispatch, http://www.yorkdispatch.com

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