Happy Birthday, Happy Whistler

July 21, 2017

I pressed the play button on my iPhone voicemail and out came a joyful noise. A friend was puckering and blowing for my birthday. About halfway through, the creaky sound was supplanted by giggling, and then followed by renewed efforts to finish what the friend had started. I smiled broadly.

It warms my heart when people whistle for me. I don’t care about the quality; it’s the effort that counts.

Over the years, I’ve found that it takes a lot of courage for someone to whistle for me, whether on a phone message or in person. I occasionally meet people who say that they love to whistle. The reaction when I ask him or her to whistle is always the same: “Well, compared to you, I’m not that good.” My perennial response is: “I promote whistling at all levels. No need to compare. The goal is to get more people whistling.” With that invitation, I can usually get them to produce a few notes.

If people want feedback, I’m happy to give it. If they simply want to share their literal whistle, that’s okay too. I’ve met some pretty good whistlers over the years who, with some training and serious initiative, could go places with their whistle. And I’ve met many people who say they can’t whistle at all, which they are usually eager to prove. In these cases, the absence of ability affords absolution, while having limited ability is perceived as a handicap, even embarrassing.

A few times over the years, I’ve had roomfuls of people whistle “Happy Birthday” for me. As I scan the gatherings of puckerers, a kaleidoscope of images and sounds mingle and jell into simple sweetness. I see giggly people struggling to form a pucker, while some belt out the birthday tune and others resort to humming. There’s a joy and frivolity that embraces the group the way a simply sung “Happy Birthday” never could. I close my eyes and revel in the sound. I feel loved. Though I never expect people to reciprocate with a whistle on my birthday, it does warm my heart to have friends whose efforts express a simple, caring message.

(Every year I whistle Happy Birthday more than 400 times for friends and family. Now you can send a recorded version to your loved ones, absolutely free. Give the gift of whistle with a free Whistle-gram.)