Thursday, May 5, 2011

Whistling Past

On one of my rare trips to the supermarket near work recently, I chanced to hear someone whistling in the parking lot. I didn't bother to see who it was, and it was some days later before I thought about the fact that it had been months since I had at least noticed someone whistling, and I wished then that I could think about who it was who did it. I'm the only person I have ever heard whistling at work, for instance, and it may not be an accident that I'm also about the oldest person at my workplace. I'm beginning to think that there are few young people in our country who do it, or are even capable.

The general history of whistling from my point of view is one with fairly corny associations. I've written disparagingly earlier about Roger Whittaker, who however is a phenomenal whistler, very good at what he's done. I sort of think of the canonical whistled melody as being like the theme to "M. Hulot's Holiday", carefree, sentimental, stuck in the forties or fifties, technically as solid as Whittaker's delivery. A measure of how ingrained the taste for things like that was in that era was Guy Mitchell's hit "Singing the Blues", a nominal woe-is-me tune delivered in a suspiciously chirpy style.

The sixties probably were reckoned to be fairly daring just because the whistle was deployed for suspense in contexts like Ennio Morricone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", not to mention Otis Redding's wan whistle which was the ultimate selling point for the lugubriousness of "Sitting On the Dock of the Bay." But since then, a dearth of whistling in popular music, and really popular anything, is observable - this list is probably a pretty good indicator of how rare it is. You could probably cut a swath in hipsterland by even including some whistling in some otherwise alt-like musical effort.

But then, someone would have to show you, and it's not particularly straightforward. The mouth-puckered type of whistle may be easier than either the tucked-lip or two-finger "hey!" whistle - the latter being, for the time being, beyond me - but I found it hard to describe to my daughter, and I suspect she's made little headway based on my attempts at instruction.

But then, I'm not particularly good at it, and if it makes me happy sometimes to whistle some of the up-and-downs of Debussy's "Arabesque", I'm going to make a point of avoiding public places.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece. I was drawn to whistling at an early age. I vaguely recall being enchanted by a whistled version of The Happy Wanderer on Doug Pledger's Polka Party, my father's favorite radio program. I whistle at work, particularly in the elevator wells and empty bathrooms although sometimes, if there are others about, they will start whistling too in an almost Pavlovian response. I whistle into my cell phone to capture a melody if I'm in a songwriting mood and I have used whistling in at least two pieces written for Pink Toupee Collective theatrical efforts. Alas no swaths were cut probably because we're far from hipsterland and I'm just not that good of a whistler.