Friday, 8 March 2013

Whistling

I like to whistle and am becoming concerned that it is dying out.  I was once stopped by my headmistress and ticked off for whistling. She intoned humourlessly (her only setting) "a whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men", which made me hate her, and love whistling, even more.

I am indebted to a person called Linda Hamilton for lots of information about whistling. She delivered a lecture on the history of musical whistling (as opposed to signal whistling) at the 2012 International Whistling Convention in North Carolina and some helpful person filmed it and posted it on YouTube. (If you have half an hour to spare, do seek it out. It is noteworthy in many ways.) Passing lightly through ancient civilizations, the Bible and Pepys, she arrived at the 1880s - the beginning of the Golden Age, one might say (she didn't). Now - here's the thing. There were many vaudeville whistlers (or sometimes whistlists) and women were well-represented among their ranks. Alice Shaw (1853-1913) used to whistle with her twin daughters



and Agnes Woodward (1873-1938) wrote a whistling manual and set up The California School of Artistic Whistling.


The School had an all-women touring performance group, with their own bus. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Sister VC!

There used to be a radio programme called My Music, chaired by Steve Race with a regular panel of Frank Muir, Dennis Nordern, Ian Wallace and John Amis. Presumably the first bit was some sort of quiz - all I remember is the second part of the programme where all the panellists did a turn. John Amis would often whistle, and it was from him that I first heard the terms siffleur and siffleuse. I don't remember any of his his whistled pieces, and it might be that he didn't whistle very often other than in my memory, but there we go. The only turn I remember any of them doing was from Mr Amis though - he sang, unaccompanied,  I Wonder As I Wander and I was thrilled to my bones. He sang the first three lines, which apparently were originally heard, sung by an Applachian child in 1933, by John Jacob Niles and put into a longer carol. Here's a version by Julie Andrews. She sings "simple" instead of "orn'ry", but I won't hold it against her.

Anyhoo, back to whistling. There's lots to it, apparently. Did you know that Al Jolson was a noted finger-whistler? Me neither. But here he is, looking very unconvincing. I enjoyed the expression of the young lady very much.

I was very fond of I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman by Whistling Jack Smith - whoever he was. There seems to be a general agreement that the person who appeared as WJS, one Billy Moeller, didn't do the whistling, but diverging opinions about who did, with one particularly overexcited claim being the Mike Sammes Singers. There is a two-part section, but I hardly think all of them would have been required, unless it was a relay.

Then there was Roger Whittaker, of course, with his Mexican Whistler. Here is a very peculiar video of him. Where is he? And why? Ace whistling though.

And then there's Sweet Georgia Brown, (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, The Whistling Waltz and many others - but where have all the siffleuses gone? Answers please!

Thanks for popping in - the salon is now open for comments, whistling-related or not. If it's your first time, do say hello.


37 comments:

  1. Hmm... I may be one of the humourless intoners, I fear. Always considered the whistling to be an annoyance in the midst of genius during The Dock of the Bay, and after suffering a nearly year long bout of the Singing in the Rain whistling intro entering my consciousness and remaining there for a good half hour daily, I'm somewhat hardened to the delights of the whistling interlude.
    No objection to those splendidly expressive whistlers, full of wonderful variation of tone, but the tuneless meanderings (again, nothing wrong with meandering per se, of course) you sometimes hear people going at for hours drive me nuts...
    Alison x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rest assured you could never achieve the depths of humourlessness of my ex (and late) headmistress...
      Being haunted by Singing in the Rain for a year seems very hard to bear - my sympathies. And I quite agree about tuneless meanderings. My grandfather had a peculiar, grating habit of whistling through his teeth which is quite impossible to describe. I shall demonstrate it to you when next we meet. I bet you can hardly wait. xx

      Delete
    2. I'd never met the crowing hen quote before and now it surfaces twice in one week! I've just come across it in a strange series of books about American schoolgirls in the early 20th century. A girl called Ruth Fielding is chided (chid? chidden?) by her uncle with the words
      "Whistlin' gals an' crowin' hens
      Always come to some bad ends!"

      Ruth counters with:
      "Whistling girls and blatting sheep
      Are the two best things a farmer can keep!"

      You note that she has been away to school and no longer drops her endings.....

      Delete
  2. Have you read John Amis's autobiography? It's fascinating. Called Amiscellany - Amazon are offering the paperback for £0.01 plus post at the moment - here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Amiscellany-My-Life-Music/dp/0571139698/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362778397&sr=8-1

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hi Abbeybufo - no I haven't and thanks for the recommendation - I shall check it out :-)

      Delete
    2. I read it when it first came out as a hardback; I was working in libraries at the time, so we had it in stock, and picked it up because I watched the programme. Liked Robin Ray, too, though didn't immediately realise he was Ted Ray's son. Used to enjoy the whistling....

      Delete
    3. ooh yes, Robin Ray - he was on the tv programme wasn't he? Bit smug for me - although his knowledge of opus numbers was admirable. And Joyce Grenfell was there and the man who played the dummy keyboard - Joseph...no good, I'm going to have to look it up...Cooper! And it was called Face the Music. And I see that Bernard Levin was occasionally on it, although I don't remember his presence. Was the theme music Facade? Hold on - yes!

      Delete
    4. Ah yes - I was mixing up the radio and tv programmes - but enjoyed both. I always expect Alan Titchmarsh to look more like Robin Ray, if that makes sense - he's similar enough looking that when his face does something different I'm surprised - a bit like Marcus du Sautoy and David Gower ... du Sautoy's mouth goes a funny shape that Gower's never does, and that always throws me! I know they're different people, but ...
      [or is it just me???]

      Delete
    5. Hmm - the last time I looked David Gower had lots of hair, du Sautoy none to speak of.....or has that changed? I have to confess I have never examined their mouths lol

      Delete
    6. I am deeply attached to Robin Ray. Or at least I was when he was still around. I saw him leading the Tom Lehrer tribute show on the London stage and was greatly taken with it, and him.

      Delete
    7. I've never thought of it before but I see exactly what you mean about de Sautoy and Gower! Are they ever seen in the same room together?

      Delete
    8. Gower lives locally - and so I know he is no longer the golden-locked lad of his cricketing days. Hair now short and grey, like de Sautoy. Somebody needs to ask whether the Professor of Mathematics has a hidden cricketing past, and/or whether the distinguished commentator and ex-captain of England has a Maths degree!
      Maybe they are twins separated at birth ...

      Delete
    9. Just found these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_du_Sautoy b. 26 Aug 1965and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Gower b. 1 April 1957 - which means 8 years between them ... still, it was a nice idea!

      Delete
    10. It was indeed.....and I am devastated to hear of the vanishing golden locks!

      Delete
  3. Good morning. You are forcing me (in an entirely good way, obviously) to consider what I think about whistling. The first thought I had was that I think I generally enjoy it in songs as the first person who came into my head was Andrew Bird. Do you know him? Singer, violinist, whistler. Whistles a lot in his songs. He's quite wonderful. Then there was the whistling in Young Folks by Peter, John and Bjorn. I enjoyed that. I love Otis whistling in Dock of the Bay, just as I love him sitting up late and smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and considering himself hard to handle. (But just as Johnny Marr didn't want David Cameron to be allowed to like The Smiths, I really wish Bryan Ferry hadn't been allowed to call his pro-fox hunting son Otis)

    On reflection, I am forming the view that women should whistle around the place as part of the ongoing struggle against misogyny, because I too remember the "whistling woman and crowing hen" nonsense (btw our hens SNEEZE and it is a wonderful sound, not at all like a human sneeze.)

    And now I must go and be about the business of Saturday, but I will be noticing whistling in a particularly attentive way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know not Andrew Bird but will seek him out. Ooh - I've just remembered the magnificent theme from The Good the Bad and the Ugly!

      I'd like to hear a henly sneeze.

      Delete
    2. Oh yes, well, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly would be an exception to almost every rule - fabulous whistling!
      Alison x

      Delete
    3. I've just found a fab version by the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain on You Tube
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLgJ7pk0X-s
      x

      Delete
  4. There was indeed a quiz element to Face the Music - it was the bit I enjoyed. I think we still have an LP of one of the episodes, unless it vanished in the last trawl. We can look in May.

    Whistling generally gets on my wick, partly as a result of having a dauer-whistler in the CAB who used to drive me mad. But I am somewhat aghast that you do not mention the incomparable Ronnie Ronalde......I grew up on this one , and others, and probably still have the 78s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry to aghast you by my omission of Mt Ronalde's excellent finger-whistling. I don't know what a dauer-whistler is...?

      Delete
    2. Oh great heavens - another apology now, this time for turning him into a mountain.

      Delete
    3. Dauer-whistler = permanent whistler......Fred, it was. And tuneless.....

      Delete
    4. Ah - like my grandfather then. Grating, very. And although I am heartily in favour of musical whistling in the street, I disapprove of whistling when in close proximity to others for any length of time, unless invited. That's just rude! And much worse if tuneless. Trouble is, I suspect it's one of those habits that we know are so hard to stop...

      Delete
    5. Yup - he had no clue he was even doing it. Until I yelled at him. (This was before the days of becoming a calm AT teacher you understand ;-))

      Delete
  5. Two entirely new concepts to consider: the dauer-whistler, and turning people, accidentally, into mountains.

    Roger Whittaker is in a corner of the Blue Peter Studios where all John Noakes' failed attempts to invent replacements for small lifting devices and larger household implements were stored.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Now then- turning people into mountains is ringing a faint bell. Enid Blyton?

    And thanks for clearing up the RW mystery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doesn't sound very EB to me... more fabulously (in the original sense) mythological than that, surely?!
      Alison x

      Delete
    2. Hmmm - I take your point. I am occasionally haunted by the Tale of Hop Skip and Jump and was wondering whether it was from that. I've just found a detailed plot summary online (praise be for people with too much time on their hands) and it's not featured, but an awful lot happens to them and it might have slipped through the net. x

      Delete
    3. Must confess my EBing is mainly the school stories, Magic Faraway Tree, selected Famous Fives, a few other mystery groups (but NEVER the Secret Seven) and, of course, the wonderful " The ... of Adventure"s. Jack, Lucy Ann, Dinah, Philip and Kiki the parrot always in poll position...
      Alison x

      Delete
    4. I must have read HS&J at an impressionable age - it really does haunt me, but not in the useful way of remembering what happened. I read all of the Adventures but had forgotten about Kiki the parrot! Tsk. x

      Delete
    5. "The Stream that Stood Still" had the same effect on me. Haunted me for years. Not EB of course, but Beverley Nichols. I wonder whether he is a begriff (useful German word meaning "do you know about it/him?) for anyone else in the Salon?

      Delete
    6. He popped up on my mental computer screen connected with cats and TV appearances in the very early 1960's. Bald, some slight campness about him? I think he's a begriff for me...

      Delete
    7. Cats, yes. There is some sort of childhood association for me ( not televisual) but a quick dip into Wikipedia has failed to reveal it. It is entirely possible that I am engaging in Pair Confusion Syndrome (recently identified by Dr Nell) of course.
      I see that BN was born in Bower Ashton in Bristol. Salonistas (whom iPhone would like to render as Stalinists) will be fascinated to know I spent many a Saturday there watching my father play cricket. Some while after 1898 though...

      Delete
    8. Aha! It was indeed a case of PCS. I was thinking of Emlyn Williams.

      Delete
    9. Beverley Nichols was one of our local famous people. He lived at the bottom of Richmond Hill when I lived at the top and opened his cottage garden to the public on occasion. I devoured all his gardening books without being freaked out by them. Unlike The Stream that Stood Still. Which I reread a couple of weeks ago and now have no clue why it scared me.

      Talking of scary books, in another place there is a discussion going on about E.Nesbit and this has been said:
      "The Enchanted Castle, on the other hand, has one of the single, most nightmarish scenes in any book I've ever read, children's book or adults'. I had nightmares about it for weeks after reading it, and still do from time to time."

      "Was that the Ugly-Wuglies? They were real Doctor Who, hide-behind-the-sofa stuff, and I say that having read it for the first time last week, at the ripe old age of thirty-something!"

      "Yes, those are the ones. The very thought is sending chills down my spine, despite my nice, brightly-lit room, with sunshine outside and a cat curled up asleep behind me."

      They are not a begriff to me and I think I shall not make them one.....

      Delete
    10. No, no, no... the Vermicious Knids (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator). I still cannot physically touch the book (even only the covers) without wincing, grimacing and feeling my gorge rise.

      Gigantic, brown-green, boneless creatures shaped something like eggs with eyes, which change shape. Just check out the Plot Summary of the book on Wikipedia for further shivers - but probably not just before bedtime...
      Alison x

      Delete
  7. Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am going through difficulties with your RSS.
    I don't know why I cannot join it. Is there anybody else getting similar RSS
    problems? Anybody who knows the solution can you kindly respond?
    Thanks!!

    Also visit my website Kslother, Http://Islampaper.Com/Profile/Jebuncle.Html,

    ReplyDelete