Every year, the world’s most passionate whistlers gather in Louisburg, North Carolina, to compete in the annual World Whistling Championship. Whistlers, young and old, are judged on resonance, intonation and stage presence as they interpret some of the most famous concertos and sonatas.
In 1970, Allen De Hart, director of public affairs at Louisburg College, founded the Franklin County and Louisburg College Festival, which focused on traditional music and dance from the southern states. Three years later, Darrel Williams, a contestant from Durham, North Carolina, requested he whistle his original composition rather than sing it. The judges accepted it and they were so impressed with his performance that the annual event soon became the National Whistlers Convention. For the last 40 years, talented whistlers from all around the world have been coming to Louisburg to show off their skills and claim the coveted title of World Whistling Champion. It might sound like a wacky contest to a lot of people, but for the dozens of participants who take part in it every it’s serious business. They spend a lot of time practicing both their whistling and their stage performance, and take special care of their “instruments”, making sure they are in perfect condition on the big day. Kissing apparently makes the lips mushy so some of them adopt a “24-hour no kissing” policy to keep their lips crisp, while others sip ice water right before the performance. The ice constricts the lip tissue, making it nice an smooth and allowing the air to flow properly.
This year, 60 artists competed for the title of world’s best whistler. The grand title in the teens division was won by Marina Kato, a 14-year-old girl from Japan, who until a year ago did most of her whistling around the house, during chores. Traditionally, Japanese women are discouraged from whistling, but Kato and other young performers who like using their own bodies as musical instruments are establishing their own tradition.
Whistling was very popular up until the 1940s, but nowadays most people don’t even know how to do it anymore. Thanks to unique events like the International Whistling Convention, people are reminded what an amazing instrument the human mouth can be when properly tuned. Forget everything you thought you knew about whistling and listen to some of these incredible artists whistle famous pieces of classical music. It will blow your mind.