Guide to Artwhistling
in partial fulfilment
for the PhD in Music Scholarship
2007 06 29 The Preface now follows instead of precedes the examples below
2007 04 29 By popular demand, here is the "other" Queen of the Night aria (mp3)
further applications of the artwhistling approach (mp3):
|1. ARTWHISTLING (PFEIFKUNST) by PERIOD|
|Renaissance:||Michael Praetorius: Dances from Terpsichore|
|High Baroque:||Baldassare: from the Concerto No.1 in F for cornetto (zink)|
|Romantic:||Heitor Villa-Lobos: from Bachianas brasileiras No.5|
|2. ARTWHISTLING (PFEIFKUNST) in OTHER ROLES|
|with Organ||Albinoni: from the Sonata Op.11 No.6|
|with Pizzicato||Bach: from the Concerto in F minor, BWV1056|
Mozart: from the Oboe Concerto, K314
|in operatic repertoire||
Mozart: from his opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)
|3. TECHNICAL DEMONSTRATIONS|
|The Whistler's Middle C Myth||Descending scale, C3 to Middle C (c1)|
|Handel: from the Water Music Suite No.1|
|Prestissimo||Marcello: from the Oboe Concerto in D minor|
J.M. Schlitz, artwhistler
No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered with a searching, but at the same time steady, eye.
- Winston Churchill
HUMAN whistling has been used in everything from light entertainment to satanic ritual; but the question which first inspired my research in the 1990s was why this medium, as old as humankind itself and inherent in all individuals, had seemingly escaped the attention of art music. To be certain, the idea of whistling a Beethoven sonata in front of formal audiences seems, to most people, unusual and even a bit odd.
This seemingly simple question has an answer that varies at any given point in history. As we shall see, the role of whistling in pre-industrial western societies was not uniform and changed often; and I will address these issues in the body of this study.* But it can be said that the modern perception of performed whistling essentially began in the late 1880s when a new type of entertainment took Europe and North America by storm, and which has remained the dominant model for performed whistling ever since. Variety entertainment, also known as music hall or vaudeville, achieved its apex in the early 20th century and can still be seen today in the form of talk shows, circuses, and amateur contests that have evolved from local fairs or festivals.
Thus for more than a century now, our concept of performed whistling – where such a concept exists at all – has been shaped by crowd-pleasing tunes, bird emulation, theatrics, and novelty appeal. This ‘whistletainment’, though frequently billed as ‘the art of whistling’, has in fact had little if any impact on art music; yet it continues to define our perception about the medium, what it can and can't do, and where performed whistling ‘belongs’ aesthetically.
What has resulted today is a curious situation in which the reception of performed whistling has polarised into two highly irrational extremes. On the one hand we see music departments, music professionals, and other music authorities who – with only vague impressions of light entertainment and novelty for reference – dismiss the idea out of hand without even a hearing. On the other extreme are whistling enthusiasts who think they are battling this attitude by promoting the medium indiscriminately, with the assumption that more exposure = more appreciation. One is forced to choose, in other words, between either whistlephobia or whistlephilia. And so it is that to this very day, a rational investigation of this medium's true musical possibilities – despite the fact it has existed as long as humankind itself – has yet to be undertaken or even seriously considered.
This is not to ignore the handful of ethnomusicological studies as well as innumerable pieces of light journalism that the topic of whistling has received. But these scholars and reporters (who invariably begin with that stupid Lauren Bacall line, even though most of the internet population, myself included, is not old enough to remember black and white films or who that is) merely describe a status quo that has not changed over the past 150 years. They fail to give us any answers, or even ask any questions. Whistletainment and amateur ‘international’ contests notwithstanding, how do we explain the fact that in the entire history of western art music – not to mention even longer traditions such as Chinese art music – professional musicians and the music community at large still seem completely oblivious to the idea of performed whistling? Are we to assume that, over the entire 900 years of art music history, whistling has simply slipped the attention of every single musician until the present writing? Or perhaps we should assume that human beings in past centuries had different oral physiologies, and did not evolve the ability to whistle until suddenly in the 1880s, when announcements of whistling performances finally appear in American newspapers. And why has there been so little research? Should we not find it a little odd that, while today so many music departments have become open to the idea of topics such as gender & music, the serious study of heavy metal or rap, the shape of Mendelssohn's nostrils, or playing films for music students wherein transvestites expose their genitals — yet, the mere mention of whistling Bach or Mozart in a formal concert setting is nearly tantamount to academic suicide at the same such institutions.
Perhaps it is time to put forward a long-overdue third view; one free of both the prejudice of whistlephobia, and the delusion of whistlephilia; a view based on investigation and listening instead of vague biases inherited from a long-dead 19th century pop culture. Our question is simple: What can, or can't, human whistling offer in terms of musical value? Need we associate performed whistling exclusively with singing-minus-words or bird sounds? Or can anyone, with practice, learn to whistle a Mozart concerto? What could the mouthflute contribute to music if we were to explore its full technical possibilities? Is there a potential for long-term audiences, or for a place in the formal music curriculum? Skepticism is of course warranted, indeed demanded; but so are these kinds of questions. Perhaps if we tried, for a moment, to shift our attention away from performed whistling in its current state and instead directed our focus toward how it might be developed or adapted, then the real possibilities will become evident. Perhaps we might discover, in other words, that whistling is neither ‘an art’ (whistlephilia), nor is it incapable of art (whistlephobia).
This in mind, we have begun by listening. The above musical excerpts were recorded in various locales over several years – usually under less than ideal conditions – and later converted to MP3 format for purposes of this study. My purpose with these samples is not to impress whistling enthusiasts. The quality of these recordings varies greatly and I make no claims of personal greatness or labial kung-fu; nor is my aim to promote whistling itself (which to me seems rather pointless). The intent here is simply to demonstrate some lesser known possibilities which may interest musicians, as well as to illustrate a few of the techniques described in the following pages.
— JMS* I addressed the pre-modern circumstances in a 2002 study "Kunstpfeifen: an Overview," which appears fully revised and expanded in the following chapters.
** Note these special German terms: Kunstpfeifen: any kind of performed whistling, musical or otherwise; in English "staged whistling." Pfeifkunst: performed whistling, both historical and modern, which is employed in the context of art music; in English "artwhistling." Source: 'Definition of Artwhistling', International Artwhistling Philharmonic Society online (accessed 1 October 2006), <http://www.artwhistling.org>.
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