Sunday, February 20, 2011

Things Once Common, Now Extinct, No. 9: Whistling.

Men don't whistle any more. I'm not sure why, but I expect I'll find something to say on the subject. In the meantime, and for tonight, here's a clip of an old guy whistling. Paul McCartney. Not bad at all.



So. Whistling. It seems to have almost died out. At one time men whistled as they walked to work, whistled while they worked, and then whistled themselves all the way home again. But now they don’t. Has it become uncool, I wonder, to whistle in public, or has the art simply vanished?

It’s not easy to whistle well. As with any form of music-making it takes a lot of skill and practice. Not everyone has the ear, or the tone, or the range required. You have to be able to hear the note in your head and simultaneously reproduce it, hitting it in the middle at the very instant of its creation. The more you think about it the more impossible it seems.

My dad was a pretty good whistler, and would usually treat his family to selected works of Schubert and Chopin before breakfast. Bit of Bach and Grieg, maybe, as he fried the tomatoes. He was conscious of his performance, the need to give it proper attention, and never indulged in aimless half-tunes and phrases, or under the breath ‘vistling’. If he started on Finlandia, then you got Finlandia. Including the middle eight.

And it was always classical. He hated pop music with a passion, and would stand in the middle of the room yelling at Ready Steady Go in the same way as I now yell at The X Factor. He did mellow a little in later years. I remember once catching him at the sink singing ‘Hey-hey we’re the Monkees’, and was never more astonished in my life.

But there’s whistling and there’s whistling. Possibly the best of all time was Ronnie Ronalde. I say ‘was’, when in fact I believe he might still be alive and performing. Here’s the king with ‘In A Monastery Garden’. It’s insane.

5 comments:

Paul Glendinning said...

I blame Roger Whittaker (deeply uncool).

Steve Augarde said...

Yes? He always speaks very highly of you...

Jennifer Morian Frye said...

My son is a whistler, third generation (at least).....though, nothing classical. More of a free-form whistler.

Steve Augarde said...

Ah yes. Like modal jazz whistling. There's a blackbird outside my window who goes in for that kind of thing - usually at around 5am. I lie awake and dream of air rifles...

Jennifer Morian Frye said...

and we do have a "Not in the car" rule.

Perhaps you could simply open the window and shout "Bang!"....my sister and I used to shout at crows in the corn fields....as small children, not recently.