Can you whistle?
Can you whistle more than one note?
Whistling was always something that I couldn’t do. Ever since I can remember, I have tried whistling, but the only thing that would come out was a mostly silent gust of air. It was terribly frustrating. Everyone else in my family could whistle. My dad would always whistle for us girls if we got dressed up. My mom could whistle exceptionally loudly. She would put her fingers in her mouth to whistle. We would hear the whistle from the park and come running home. My brothers could whistle and my sister could whistle. I, for my part, could not.
I did try to learn. I asked my sister to teach me. She started by describing in detail how to place my lips in a circle and what to do with my tongue. When that didn’t work, she drew step by step pictures of what my lips and tongue were supposed to be doing. I tried to replicate the pictures. I followed all the carefully construed instructions, but still all I got was:
One day, after many years of trying to learn to whistle, my sister informed me, “After people reach your age, they can no longer learn to whistle if they haven’t learned already.” I might as well just give up. Give up, I did. I didn’t try to whistle again for a long long time.
Then, I moved to Japan. I’m not sure what happened, but as soon as I got to Japan, I started to perpetually try and whistle. I wasn’t even conscious of doing it. Perhaps it was because I can’t speak Japanese and my subconscious was wanting to keep my lips in shape for when I moved back to Canada and could speak to people again. While biking to the grocery store, walking to work, cleaning the house, doing laundry, etc., I could be seen putting my lips into the tightest circle I could manage and blowing as much air as possible through them.
I was doing this for several hours every day for several weeks when all of a sudden:
It wasn’t quite a whistle, but it was more than I had been able to do before. This gave me renewed vigour and I continued trying to whistle. I got better and better. I thought, “My sister was wrong. I’m learning to whistle as an adult!”
During this process, my husband was generally fairly gracious. In fact, he was even encouraging at first, “I didn’t know you couldn’t whistle before. Can you do more than one note?” As he’d go off whistling something which I would try and replicate.
Eventually, he became less tolerant of my perpetual practicing without strong results, “Can you PLEASE stop that?”
Of course, I didn’t realize that I was practicing, it was all subconscious, but I could readily admit that it was pretty annoying.
Recently, my husband and I were playing name that tune. He started by whistling something and I would guess it. Then, it came my turn to whistle.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Ok, I’ll try again.”
“I still can’t hear you.”
Try as I might, he still couldn’t get it.
Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to guess it either. So instead, I started to hum and he guessed the song immediately.
Now that I am back from Japan, I do not practice whistling as much as I used to. I haven’t, however, given up on my dream of one day being able to whistle a whole song. I will keep practicing until I can control whether a beautiful note or a silent gust of air comes out of my mouth.
May this story be a reminder to us all that even when someone tells you that you have gotten too old to develop a skill, it may just be that that person finds listening to the development of that skill rather annoying, and not that you can’t actually acquire it.