Monday, March 21, 2011

Puss music

The animated feature film was born about the same time as me, Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Well, actually about a year later, but our gestation periods may have overlapped. Anyway, it was surely the first movie I saw in a theatre, and a scary one at that. But there was nothing scary about scenes like this one. The Disney genius at its best.

Whistle while you work. Who whistles anymore?

OK, OK, I know there are whistling championships and all that, but when is the last time you heard someone whistle a happy tune? Maybe about in the year 1951, with Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I.

Everyone whistled in the 1940s, including Bing Crosby and The Whistler. My childhood was filled with whistling. My father had a characteristic whistle he used to call us kids from play: who-WHEEEEEE-heeeeee (as best I can transcribe it). My spouse, who grew up in Brooklyn in the same era, tells me she could always tell who was walking by in the street by their whistles.

Then whistling went out of style. Maybe with the birth of rock and roll. Certainly the timing is right. No more whistling in the street; from the mid-50s on, it's rock around the clock. The Colonel Bogey March from The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957 was the grand finale.

In Ireland, in former times, folks too poor to have proper musical instruments held dances at the crossroads accompanied by "puss music." Has there been a proper history of whistling?