My Future as a Professional Whistler is Nearly Assured

This story begins with an office party. There’s one every year, of course. It’s usually in January, the better to make sure everyone can be there. For the first several years I worked at the office, we had the party at a local restaurant. Five years ago, we had it at the Deadwood Social Club, which has a beautiful black box theater, complete with a stage. After eating our delicious meal, a few of us sat staring at the stage, pondering how awesome it would be if there was something to watch happening on the stage.

The the idea of the Office Talent Show was born. The next year we had the party at the home of some of the bosses, and the Talent Show was mandatory. There was a lot of grumbling, but everyone wound up participating. There was a kazoo band incorporating may of the humbugs, to magnificent effect. Other acts included a classically trained pianist playing ACDC’s TNT (classically), which was hilarious, several of our staff members who are in local bands playing original songs (impressively), some of our singers singing, one of the owners riding a unicycle, one of the owners doing a Monte Python sketch, and me demonstrating my infallible knowledge of Disney music (ending with a rousing audience-participation chorus of Mulan’s “Be A Man”).

The second year met with less variety in talent and much more grumbling. (“How can you force us to do this? It’s cruel and unusual punishment!”) But the show went on. There were ukuleles and card tricks and singing and Eddie Izzard and I demonstrated my proficiency in sign language, accompanied by a friend singing an opera aria she and I composed an hour before the party. It was a little lame, I confess.

The third year – last year – full-out rebellion set in. Our employees refused to come to the party if we forced them to participate in a talent show. So there was no talent show. The party was okay – there was food and drink and some chatting – and then everyone left. It felt very unfulfilling.

And so this year we re-instituted the talent show, under a “not quite mandatory” policy. And I like showing off, so I was happy enough to volunteer…

Especially when I realized I have an actual talent.

You see, there is a particular employee in our office who is well-known for whistling badly. Christmas songs, mostly. And one day I was walking by while someone was talking about his bad whistling, and I thought to myself – “heh, heh. Poor guy. I bet he wishes he was as awesome a whistler as I am.” And then it struck me – I really am an awesome whistler.

It is a talent I inherited from my Grandpa George.

I can whistle on-pitch, on-tempo, and I can trill, which isn’t too shabby at all. So, curious, I hopped over to YouTube and searched for “good songs to whistle.” Up came a slew of videos relating to the World Whistling Championships, which I didn’t even know existed. And let me tell you – there are some really amazing whistlers out there.

Finally, I saw an interview with the 2009 Whistling Grand Champion, and she mentioned that maybe next year she would tackle Bohemian Rhapsody.

Well obviously, if the World Whistling Grand Champion thought it was a good idea, so should I. And it fit the talent show bill perfectly – something talent-ish, but more importantly, entertaining. Everyone knows Bohemian Rhapsody, and it’s kind of a silly song. Perfect.

So I started practicing.

You know what? Bohemian Rhapsody is not a piece of cake. Normally, I can pick music up very quickly by ear. After listening to Bohemian Rhapsody for two solid days on endless repeat, I was still losing track of which key I was supposed to be in during the middle section, so I downloaded the sheet music. Turns out the song changes keys three times, and time signatures another three times. I complained to my friend Carlynn, a Doctor of Cello and Graduate of Freddy Mercury Week(tm), who said to my pain: “that guy [Freddie Mercury] was not messing around.” She also pointed out that the dude hates shirts.

True enough.

So I kept practicing, using my out-of-tune piano as a crutch. I’m glad I had a full two weeks to get it under control. I probably could have used one more.

Finally the moment arrived: the Not-Quite-Mandatory Talent Show that All But Three Employees had volunteered for. Suddenly, it turned into Only Three Employees who were interested in performing. Whatever. I had a talent and I was ready to go.

After a rousing accordian chorus of Louie Louie (Louis Louis? Lewie Lewie?), I was called to the stage, in front of my massive dining room table. I called for a B to begin my a capella intro to the song and launched into it.

(Disclaimer, in case you elect to watch the video: my accompaniment was provided by a laptop, making it rather hard to hear. Also, I especially love the bit in the video when Dan checks to see if I’m really whistling. 🙂 )

My talent was received with exactly the enthusiasm I had hoped: delighted giggles from the first folks who realized what I was up to, applauding, and maybe even a little whistling along.

What I did not expect was the rousing endorsement I got afterward. Apparently, I really amazed my coworkers with what may be a legitimate talent. I promised that if I made it into the World Whistling Championships, I would invite them all along.

And you know what? The World Whistling Championships are hilarious. I looked them up after everyone went home, and here are some of the guidelines I found:

“You may not accompany yourself … [because the] judges need to watch your facial expressions and particularly the use of your lips.”

“But for serious whistlers whose goal is to become an international grand champion, they must enter both the classical and popular categories.” (Which leads me to believe there may be room in this competition for kicks-only whistlers. Also, it leads me to believe you can’t accidentally win.)

Regarding your selection for a Classical Entry: “Composers to be considered are usually those of Europe and the United States. … If Asian, African or South American compositions, a professional music authority must vouch for authenticity of your choice.”

Regarding your selection for a Popular Music Entry: “…the choices are wide and varied from folk, blues, jazz, county, rock and roll, western, reggae, and many mixtures of music for the ‘masses.’ Your selection could be from ancient ballads to the most current pop song. When in doubt about your choices, you may wish to use the New Harvard Dictionary of Music edited by Dan Randel, or discuss your selections with musicians who have graduate degrees in music.”

That last one is really long, but it was so funny, I had to post it all.

All said and done, I have come to this conclusion: if the World Whistling Championships ever come to South Dakota, I am SO there. Or a state fair. I would almost certainly enter a whistling competition at a state fair.

Stay tuned, and if Dustin uploads it and it’s not too embarrassing (I did run directly into the dining room table when rocking out to the last section of the song), I’ll post a link to my awesome performance.

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