12 February 2007

Smiling at 'Pucker up: The Fine Art of Whistling'

Several weeks ago this documentary by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner was shown on Australia's ABC TV. It's out in DVD and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

I can't stop thinking of the whistling and the whistlers, and smiling.

The film's been called 'a competitive whistling documentary' but it's much more than that. It's sparked delightful conversations such as this one in the Mudcat Café, which includes this un-straightfaced post from 'Susan':

Wal, now me, I pucker up and blow, but I also pucker up and suck. You can do that all day and never stop making notes just to get a little air in? Whistle blowing out, as well as sounding notes pulling the air back in. Must be how harmonica players do it, too. Who needs a harmonica though-- if you got yer pucker witcha, you don't need nothing else!

What is it about these whistlers? The music was as pure as birdsong, and as experimental as some birds' repertoires . The practice of whistling was mostly a solitary act — at the least, a smiled-at personality quirk, but often a societally ridiculed, illicit activity that was censured (especially for the whistler who could not stop whistling, even at a funeral). The honing of their skills was as determined and mostly self-directed as any lyrebird's. Their passions are aberrations, the beauty of the music they make often unnoticed because of the supposed silliness of the way they make it, so even if they appear in some show, they are treated rather condescendingly. So each of these fine musicians bore a sadness that heightened the beauty of the songs, even the most joyful of them. One after another performed with great personal style,and what they produce was, so many of them, was what I would call finely crafted, great art. Each whistled emanation sounded like it was drawn pure from their souls. Souls that had something to say that wasn't me me me.

The venue, The International Whistlers Convention, was a welcoming one, the competition mood quite unfashionably un-nasty — so refreshing in itself.

The only part of the competition that made me fret was when a bit of the children's competition was shown. They had clearly been taught, and were being encouraged to whistle. Of course! It is only natural that the organisers want to further the aberration as an art. Yet, I can't help thinking of a possible future, when everyone will have a whistle inside them, and you won't be able to stand in a queue without the people on both sides of you sidling up and telling you that they've been thinking of this little number that they've been thinking of doing . . .

Hopefully, the efforts to legitimise whistling will fail, and artists such as these in the film will continue to whistle for the joy and passion of it, damn the respectability.


Anonymous said...

I like whistling too but it seems out of vogue.

I was startled 10 years ago to hear a young Chilean woman ask her Aussie friend, "Is it impolite to whistle?" Ah, the old-world courtesy and politeness of las chilenas y los chilenos; do they belong here, in rough, crude Oz?



anna tambour said...

Rough, crude Oz? Oh, I don't know.
Some think it's rude to sniff,
and some, to blow.
Rude not to slurp,
rude not to burp,
rude to be hatless,
rude to be fatless.
(We queue,
but do Chileans, too?)