Whistling Down the River

One of the happiest tunes I have ever heard is the opening theme of “The Fishing Hole” on “The Andy Griffith Show.” (Hear a version of it here: http://www.televisiontunes.com/Andy_Griffith_Show.html) Co-writer Earle Hagen  whistled it himself for the show, and said that he tossed it off in about 15 minutes. The song has words, too, but it’s the whistling that has impact for me.

Whistling always has. As a child, one of the first rhymes I memorized was:

I had a wooden whistle, but it wooden whistle;
I bought a steel whistle, but it steel wouldn’t whistle.
Then I bought a tin whistle, and now I tin whistle.

It captured my love of wordplay and my love of the magical bird sounds of whistling.

I thought of that when I came across the essay “Whistling” in the late Barbara Holland’s whistlingbook Endangered Pleasures.  She, like me, admitted to limited capacity for whistling her own tune, but also like me, loved the sound of whistling, which she called “a traveler’s sound,” suggesting someone who is footloose and fancy free. She suggested such whistlers represent an endangered species replaced everywhere by iPod-wearers traveling in their own worlds. All too few now are the men whistling as they walk down the street, boys whistling to call their dogs, or people who say, like Pinocchio, “Give a little whistle,” when you need something.

Whistling has three distinct purposes:

1)    It connotes pleasure in one’s task, like the Seven Dwarfs who famously whistled while they worked. It says, in effect, “I have chosen to do this, and I’m good at it.”

2)    It breeds confidence in the midst of doubt. Consider the words to “Whistle a Happy Tune” in The King and I: “While shivering in my shoes, I strike a careless pose, And whistle a happy tune, And no one ever knows I’m afraid.” The result of whistling, as the song suggests, is that self- deception works. “The happiness in the tune, Convinces me that I’m not afraid.” Ultimately, we are all as brave as we make believe we are. It’s the old “Fake it ‘til you make it” trick.

3)    It promotes anticipation. In West Side Story, Tony sings: “Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, But it is Gonna be great!” He’s not sure if it is “Around the corner or whistling down the river,” but it’s on its way. Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen. It’s a great way to live.

And one more for the road: Bobby McFerrin begins “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” with whistling as delightful as the opening to “The Andy Griffith Show.” Hear it here: http://www.jango.com/music/Bobby+McFerrin?l=0

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