For the Love of … Whistling

If you know me, you’ve heard me whistle.

I know, it’s a petty prompt for a post, but in all seriousness, I am so grateful that I can whistle.

Being abroad so far has been a fantastic and broadening experience. My mom asked me while skyping the other day whether it’s been worth it, being here, and without hesitation I went rambling about all of the ways that I’ve grown and learned in the last months, which really comes down to my becoming slightly more acquainted with the world in all its bizarre diversity. I had a very drunk old man fall on my table two nights ago and knock my water glass and milanesa to shatter and splatter on the ground. I shared a mate with some random teenagers on Lavalle yesterday and ended up seeing (and understanding) Iron Man 3 en castellano with them (which was awesome, by the way). I walk a little taller here, not because I’ve grown, but because appearance is everything in this damn world. And so it goes.

It’s all been great, with the distinct exceptions of deeply missing two of my main loves: my people, and my music.

Of course I miss my people. Those who are usually sources of strength and comfort are… far away. That can be difficult and saddening. I miss you guys often.

But my music. Ah, my music.

If you know me, you’ve heard me whistle. Perhaps it’s because I began my musical education young that I feel the urge to express melodically; what is nature or nurture is difficult to discern. But whatever the source, I get something from being musical that I cannot replace with any other activity or mode of expression. Listening to music is in no way the same. In fact, I hardly listen to music at all. It’s like reading a cookbook and having no kitchen. Or shopping for running sneakers after having broken your legs. I don’t want to hear anyone else express, no matter how beautifully. Their songs block my own.

I can always hear my familiar melodies faintly in my head. They are so important to me, each of them having evolved and matured through the course of years and events. They formulate best through my fingers, thanks to the incredible privilege I’ve been bestowed, foremost by my mother for having prodded me to practice for all those years, but also by my makeup, my teachers, my guitar-smashing friends…

But these fingers have been denied their dancing lately, and are antsy, like, “WTF man?” I reply to them, “I know, right? Seriously, I’ve been looking!” For a country with a strong historical piano culture, there is remarkably little recourse for a non-music-student-traveller in search of a practice room, or a living room, or a hotel lobby, or a bar room— anything, anything with a dingy upright beer-spilt poorly tuned set of keys. Anything to get these melodies out of my head and into the air where they can re-enter through my ears and create that magical cycle of musical creation.

And so I whistle.

And just as a by-product of having whistled a lot (and having applied some conscious effort at ‘improving’ at whistling) I find that it … does the job. I can’t really sing, well. Humming is not as satisfying. And when it comes down to it, whistling produces a relatively pure tone, if high-pitched and shrill. But even then, I can comfortably whistle from about C1 — E3, which is enough range for a fantastic range of repertoire. Whistling thus allows for that blunt melodic expression that I feel the need to produce.

So in all seriousness, I’m grateful that I can whistle. I’m not sure if those around me share my gratitude, as you’ve certainly heard more of it than you’ve wanted at times. Here in Argentina, my host family has nicknamed me ‘El Silbador,’ although I think it’s used somewhat affectionately as my host-mother Carmen has exclaimed several times, “que buen silbatazo!”

Because I know some of you will recognize it, I’ll include here what is probably my most-sampled motif, which has been ever on repeat this last year. Ancient 1. It’s a simple, tragic tune, but never-ending, and full of hope.

And because I’m feeling bold, here is a recording on piano from before I left for Argentina, in which you will hear this motif and others. I don’t share this lightly, as this was produced in a sad moment. But it’s not a sad song; I whistle it in happy times too. Also please pardon the recording quality, which is horrendous. I should really get a microphone. #Someday. #WhenIHaveMoney.

Soul bearing is always a mixed experience. I hope I didn’t bore you with my musings. I did just write about whistling, which is not exactly a deep intellectual subject, though important to me, as I’ve just described. To make up for my own lack of interesting ideas, here and here are two innovative social enterprises that you should be aware of and support. :)

Be well!

1 comment
  1. catherine cantrell said:

    Hi Alex: Thank you so much for your wonderful writing ability shared with us. I so enjoy hearing from you. I’m writing you with the grateful news that Alison offered me an hour with the boys last Friday 6-7 and I brought a pizza and salad so our hour was spent together at the table. I’m so grateful to have had a chance to visit with them for the first time in over two years. Yes, I saw them at the Memorial Service and the Bar Mitzvah, but to visit with just them and hear about their lives and progress was excellent. I shared about my parents and grandparents things they didn’t know talking about “nature and nurture” and the traits and characteristics we inherit. By the way, my father was a whistler and your cousin, Tovah, is a very sweet whistler! Much love, Grandma

    Date: Sun, 19 May 2013 03:39:29 +0000 To: backpackingranny@hotmail.com

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