Until my hearing started to deteriorate around 2003, I was an enthusiastic and inveterate whistler. I enjoyed music of all sorts—classical, modern, folk, jazz, ambient, techno, world, and so on—and where I could, I whistled an accompaniment. Sometimes I just ‘whistled along’, following the tune, matching my soundtrack to the tempo and mood of the music. Sometimes I harmonised as best I could. Sometimes I added a little improvisation of my own making, an off-beat syncopation, an unexpected trill, even a deliberate note omission. Orchestral classical music presented the greatest challenges, offering multiple opportunities to ‘switch channels’—from the strings to the brass to the woodwind back to the strings and so on. In the solitude of my study at home and with my lips suitably wettened (with saliva or wine), I whistled my heart out and extracted the maximum pleasure from the music emanating from the Bose speakers on top of my wall-to-wall bookcase. But, all that stopped when my hearing impairment developed and recently and somewhat sadly I disposed of the hundreds of CDs I had accumulated throughout my whistling career. The LPs are next on the disposal list. My prowess as a whistler is now forgotten except by those who became annoyed at the incessant noises I made.
And so it has been since 2003 until last night. Something remarkable happened around 4 o’clock this morning. I had a dream. Now, dreams are notoriously difficult to recall but most of this dream has so far remained vivid in my short-term memory. I dreamt I was travelling in an open railway carriage, the old-fashioned sort where passengers face each other across a table. My wife was with me but not beside me. For some reason, she was sitting in a seat across the aisle. Directly opposite me was a middle-aged man of pleasant disposition, conservatively dressed and with a briefcase placed on the table between us. The train was moving slowly through pastoral land and all was quiet and peaceful.
Suddenly, the man stood up, moved into the aisle and with no opening announcement started singing. He closed his eyes and swaying slightly to the rhythm of the train he started singing a very whistleable song. I recognised the tune instantly. It came from a musical theatre show, something by Cole Porter or Irving Berlin, that kind of song. I can’t remember the title but I joined in. I began whistling an accompaniment. The man opened his eyes, glanced in my direction, tipped me an almost imperceptible nod, closed his eyes again and continued with the song. At first I followed the tune but then I began to embellish his performance, harmonising, syncopating, reinforcing the tune and I loved it. I was ‘in the zone’, as they say these days. At the end of the song, the man moved smoothly onto another, I with him, and in this way we delivered a divertimento to all our fellow travellers. At the end of the second song, he stopped, or I woke up, or both. There was no more but for a while I lay motionless in bed recalling the tremendous pleasure I had just experienced and anxious to capture the essence of the dream as best I could in a written description.
Throughout most of my life, whistling has given me much musical satisfaction. It all stopped in 2003 but briefly for a small indeterminate amount of time, the pleasure returned last night.
A Dyslexic Perspective On Writing - Jonathan Taylor said:
So beautifully described but also so tragic: reminding me of a scene from Amadeus in which his mentor states “you taught me to sing and then struck me mute:…” I cannot imagine a world without sound Ben, but you deal with this so bravely. Continue to dream!
Ben Bennetts said:
Thanks for your comment, JT. My dream was an amazing experience and very very vivid. It would seem as if my subconscious will not let me forget how much I enjoyed music.
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That explains why Mark does it! That annoying whistling is genetic! 😉
Ben Bennetts said:
For those not in the know, Mark is my older son and, yes, he does whistle occasionally but he does so tunelessly so I suspect he has a defective whistling gene!
Like you Ben, I have always loved and listened to music – nowhere near such an eclectic mix as you but I know what I like and like what I know. Is it “in the genes” as our family is wont to say as I too have always been an inveterate whistler – often being advised that it is quite “unladylike” to do so.
However, about a year ago and much to my frustration, I lost this ability! I am interested to know – can you still whistle even though you can’t hear because I certainly can’t whistle even though I can hear?
‘Tis a puzzlement!!
Ben Bennetts said:
I can still whistle, whether I’m wearing hearing aids or not, but I can no longer whistle in tune. I’ve lost the ability to pitch the note correctly. A few years ago, I had a long conversation about this with an audiologist at Phonak’s hearing-aid research facility in Zurich and she confirmed my inability to match the frequency (pitch) of a note coming through a speaker. I’ve become tone deaf when I’m awake but not when I’m asleep seemingly. But, when I whistled in my sleep early this morning, I must have done so soundlessly. My wife, sleeping beside me, didn’t complain!
I am not a fan of whistling and thankfully haven’t inherited the family gene! However, if I had heard your professional renditions perhaps I would have changed my mind. I found your account of your dream quite moving.
Oh that we could capture, and recall at will, those dreams that bring us such pleasure.
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