Can the construction industry bring back the lost art of whistling?

Can the construction industry bring back the lost art of whistling?

28th December 2015

Sadly over the past 30 years or so we’ve seen the demise of a great British tradition – the art of whistling while you work.  Years ago, it was quite common to hear people whistling away as they went about their daily work.  It was especially the case that those who worked outside would whistle – milkmen, postal delivery workers, farm workers, builders and construction workers – they would all be whistling merry tunes as they worked away.  We’re not talking here about wolf-whistling and cat-calling which we’re relieved to see the back of – that’s just misogynistic nonsense that has no place in modern society.

However, hearing people whistling tunes, whistling along to the radio, etc. is pleasant and cheerful and will usually bring a smile to the face of those who hear it.  Nobody known how long people have been able to whistle, but chances are that it’s a form of music as old as mankind itself.  Whistling isn’t just limited to humans either – dwarves can whistle as anybody who’s seen Disney’s Snow White will know.  The little team of diminutive mine workers set off of work every day to the tune of “Whistle While you Work”! 

The Independent has published an article on the subject of whistling, revealing that some experts blame the decline of working class jobs and the rise of the iPod and mobile phone for the death of whistling.  It seems there’s been a decline in the types of jobs associated with whistling – delivery boys, milk men, etc.  Moreover, a 2012 survey revealed that changing attitudes have meant that tradesmen from roofers to construction workers believe that wolf whistling at passing women is inappropriate and unacceptable, which it is.  However, whistling a tune involves a high level of skill at whistling and this is just something we very rarely hear nowadays. 

Whistling seems to have gone out of fashion in the music industry as well which is a great shame.  Who can forget the plaintive whistling section by Otis Redding in “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” or the haunting whistle in “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions?  Maybe it’s time we brought back whistling as an art form before this becomes another traditional skill lost with the passage of time. 

Whistling is not particularly easy to accomplish, especially by youngsters and whistling well involves quite a lot of practise.  Whistling an actual tune can be incredibly difficult and is a skill well worth learning – perhaps the construction industry could lead the way in a “Bring Back the Whistle” campaign.

Whistling probably developed as a form of warning or other communication system – after all, it’s quick, easy and no need for words.  Learning to whistle is a rite of passage for children, along with learning to tie you shoe laces or learning to ride a bike.  Has this rite of passage fallen by the wayside as we now learn to push buttons on a tablet or a phone?  The whistle replaced by a text or a tweet?