Let’s talk about things I can’t do. Let’s talk about whistling. Since I was a child, I always felt I was missing out on something really exciting and important because almost everyone around me could do it. They could whistle Christmas carols, they could whistle Vivaldi’s Summer, they could whistle “Eleanor Rigby.” A friend who considers himself an extremely proficient whistler once personally instructed me for over half an hour, but to no avail. Try as I could, I could never make any sound come out of my mouth apart from a pathetic whooshing noise. Whistlers of the world, consider yourselves lucky. I envy you.
Is it the shape of my mouth? Have I got funny teeth? Maybe I don’t practice enough. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes. That’s okay. I can compensate for my sad lack of skill by listening to professional whistling, or “puccalo.” Puccalo is considered an instrument on its own, not to be confused with casual whistling. What I love about whistling is that it’s one of the simplest ways to make music. You don’t even have to be a good singer to be a good whistler. No extra props needed! And it works well with any kind of song. Take “There It Go (The Whistle Song)” by hip-hop artist Juelz Santana for example, or anything by Toots Thielemans, one of the world’s greatest whistlers and blues harpists (who can be found in our wonderful jazz vinyl collection at the station). Andrew Bird’s whistling is so beautiful it’s almost unearthly. Bobbejaan Schoepen, the yodeling whistler, has his own theme park, Bobbejaanland, in Belgium. Some part of me would love to learn how to whistle just so I could go outside and communicate with the birds – like the bird whisperer. Until then, I’ll just have to silently appreciate others.
Check out this video of Andrew Bird improvising with Yo-Yo Ma: