Whistling Isn't Work—It's Art

Fine Arts graduate student Campbell Thibo lifts spirits with his unique talent

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 20, 2013

The noisy, bustling International District/Chinatown transit station might not be every performing artist’s idea of a dream concert hall. Campbell Thibo isn’t just any artist, though.

The station’s amazing echo and Asian garden aesthetic are what appeal to the Fine Arts graduate student’s desire to touch something deeper in his audience. He considers the transit platform an underutilized performance venue. If only he could eliminate the ever-present, deafening roar of all those buses and trains, Thibo imagines the transit tunnel would be perfection for the joys of his whistling. That’s right. Whistling.

As accomplished a whistler as he may be—Thibo can whistle with aplomb classical music the likes of The Four Seasons by Vivaldi—his unusual musical talent hasn’t quite found its niche. Still, the whistler perseveres. This past March, he took his performance art to the On the Boards production “12 Minutes Max” at Seattle’s Washington Hall. He also performed before a captive audience at Seattle University.

People are apt to recall hopefulness when they hear music whistled, says Thibo.
“People don’t whistle when they’re disappointed, unless maybe there’s irony,” he says. “Whistling itself embodies sunshine.”

Think about it. “Whistling in the dark” is meant to keep your courage up. “Blowing the whistle” exposes a wrongdoing with the goal of ending it.
“‘Whistling while you work’ is a way to bring enjoyment to what you do,” adds the whiz whistler.

“Whistling is like a Braille map of our imagination,” he says. “It’s a whole lot easier to reproduce a symphony by whistling than by singing or playing a single instrument. It’s easier to be louder or quieter, easier to reproduce sound that resonates in spaces. And it comes back to us and sounds like we imagined.”

Whistling surfaced as an art form when Thibo was recovering from a nasty three-week flu bug in the winter of 2011. He had discovered dance—ballet—the year before, but recognized his body needed a rest after he became ill. While others might recuperate with a good book or TV, Thibo chose to indulge his love of music by whistling his way through a collection of baroque and classical dances originally written for musical recorders.

Hidden Talents

Whistling and dance are only two of Thibo’s many art forms. He sings alto and bass with the adventurous Seattle vocal group The Esoterics, which performs the likes of a cappella opera based on Zoroastrian hymns more than 3,500 years old.

One day last spring, he hauled a stationary bike and a bucket of cherry petals to a street corner on lower Queen Anne. The grinning, talking and singing pedaler asked passers-by to toss handfuls of cherry petals at him. They giggled as they obliged and joined his impromptu activity.

Check out a video clip of the whistler in action. 

Listen to audio of the whistler.

whistler Campbell Thibo has taken his love of music to a different level with his masterful whistling of the classics.