Dear Readers, whatever happened to whistling? When I was growing up, everyone seemed to do it. Paperboys whistled on their rounds. Van drivers wolf whistled out of their windows at any female between 11 and 65 (these days they yell obscenities which is hardly an improvement). To attract a friend’s attention, you put two fingers in your mouth and emitted a startlingly loud blast (which I could never do, but was impressed by those who could). Nowadays the paper boys (those who are left now that we all read the news online) listen to music on their phones rather than making it, and I suspect most people never learn to whistle in the first place. The only living things whistling on my street are the starlings.
Dad was a long-established whistler. He would put a Nana Mouskouri or Demis Roussos record on the player, and would tap along for the first thirty seconds. My brother and I would wait for the inevitable. Dad would pucker up and join in, invariably half a bar late and with a tune that only roughly approximated what was actually happening. Sometimes he would stop and give it another bash, and on other occasions he would rush to try to catch up. We were often in silent stitches by the end of the performance, but Dad would always look quietly content, as if the race had been difficult but he’d got there in the end.
I don’t remember the last time I heard Dad whistle. It might have been around the time that he was diagnosed with COPD, but for years he’d barely had the breath to sit in his reclining chair comfortably. As his health, and Mum’s, declined, there was precious little to whistle about. But when I had lunch with him in the home in March last year, they were playing Spanish music and serving Spanish food, and I saw him tapping along with Julio Iglesias. He puckered up at one point, as if about to start, but then the Spanish chicken turned up and he set to with enthusiasm. It was the last time that I ever ate with Dad, or had a proper conversation with him, because he died on 31st March. The tuneless whistler was finally silenced, and there will never be a performance like it again.
How amused Dad would have been to hear that there is such a thing as a professional whistler! I thought of him when I read this piece in The Guardian yesterday. Here’s an excerpt:
‘Sitting by the deathbed of the Hollywood veteran Harry Dean Stanton, professional whistler Molly Lewis delivered her most poignant performance to date. The Australian-born musician whistled otherworldly versions of Danny Boy and Just a Closer Walk from Thee, the gospel ballad Stanton croons in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. “He kissed my hand – it was such a beautiful moment”, remembers Lewis of her intimate 2017 performance”.
So, naturally I had to have a listen myself. For your delectation, here is the video for Lewis’s 2021 single ‘Oceanic Feeling’. I think the sound is utterly beautiful, but it might be better listened to rather than watched – it’s difficult not to be distracted by the comic appearance of someone whistling. See what you think!