Professional Whistler

Dad at the Marina close to Minnesota

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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZ6vuWFxvGM

 

13 thoughts on “Professional Whistler

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I have been known to try and whistle along to some tune or other – especially if there is a whistling segment. (I’m now struggling to recall a tune with that in, but I’m sure there are a few – oh yes, there was Whistling Jack Smith! And here is a ‘classic’ 60’s video for you and your readers to enjoy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39dJptQV_Jc The intro is in German, but after that it’s universal!! 😊)
    As for your video, although it is rather haunting, it doesn’t look real somehow. And I don’t think tossing the rose over her shoulder helps us to take it seriously – though maybe that’s the idea!?

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      When I moved in with my (now not so) new partner, I was charmed to discover that he is a whistler like my dad and yours. So the art is not dead.

      Reply
    2. Rosalind Atkins

      Puts meaning into the expression “bouncing along”. Can’t not smile at it!
      (In case you don’t know, the intro says that the record was actually intended as a joke!)

      Reply
  2. Rosalind Atkins

    That music is remarkable – and rather lovely. I didn’t watch after the first couple of seconds … ;0

    Reply
  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    You got me interested and I thought I’d already sent these links, but it appears not. So here are three more whistling tunes for your enjoyment:
    The Scorpions, Winds of Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4RjJKxsamQ
    Bobby McFerring, Don’t Worry, Be Happy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-diB65scQU
    Otis Redding, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTVjnBo96Ug
    I defy you not to whistle along… 😊

    Reply
  4. Ann Bronkhorst

    My mother taught me to whistle and I taught my daughter. It was thought unladylike in my mother’s day and in mine. Would whistle more now but husband says it’s too piercing. Oh dear.

    Reply
  5. Anne

    What a lovely interlude this has been, listening to those whistling tunes from so long ago! My brothers could all whistle effortlessly – piercing whistles too. I sometimes whistle whilst driving on my own, especially if I am feeling happy – my singing voice is not up to scratch! Instead of whistling, I leaned to make the sound of a dove calling by blowing through my cupped hands. This is a skill I passed on to my own children.

    Reply

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