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Whistling Woodsman: Central PA Logger Competing At International Whistling Fest

Martin Melville standing outside
Min Xian

Many people can whistle a note or two, but whistle and perform whole songs?

One whistler from central Pennsylvania who’s competing at the 2019 Masters of Musical Whistling festival Aug. 23-24 in California can.

“There’s a lot of reasons to whistle,” said Martin Melville. 

Melville is getting ready for his second performance at the Masters of Musical Whistling international festival and competition. It’s this weekend in California.

He’ll be whistling a song he wrote called “Smokin’ Rats.”

“It actually popped into my head as a kind of Ukranian sort of tune, but then I actually redid it as a blues tune.”

Melville will whistle in the popular division, accompanied by recorded music. Other divisions include classical and self-accompanied, where whistlers play an instrument while whistling.

He said a premise of the competition is that at one time whistling was a well-respected form of art.

“Think about the Andy Griffith show — the theme song for that," Melville said, whistling the well-known tune. "For whatever reason, it’s kind of fallen out of that recognized musical form. I’ll go to a jam, and people are like, ‘So what do you play?’ And I’m like, ‘I whistle.’ And they go, ‘Really?’ … And then they hear me jam a little bit, and they’re like, ‘Give us another one, man.’”

Melville made his foray into whistling as a first-grader. Remember that Rice Krispies jingle? Melville whistles it.

“It’s been a long time since I did that," he said. "I had to think about it."

Melville got serious about whistling as a teenager. As he tells the story, when he was about 16 years old, he went to visit the person he thought was his girlfriend in Alaska. She apparently didn’t see it the same way, but they still went canoeing for two weeks. 

“That gave me a lot of time to get better at whistling.”

Melville has continued to hone his skills since then. But, he didn’t compete professionally until two years ago.

A Penn State graduate, Melville lives near Centre Hall in Centre County, with his wife, Judy.

“He’s excellent at whistling," she said. "But he’s very loud …  It’s great when he’s outside."

As it turns out, Melville does spend a lot of time outside, and whistling fits in with that. Melville is a self-described Quaker logger.

“The spirit is all around us. And it doesn’t matter to me if you call it holy spirit or what," Melville said. "To be able to work outside where basically you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder and be in communication with the spirit all the time every day is the equivalent of what Paul talks about in scripture in the Bible of praying without ceasing.”

Melville said that’s been a relaxing and peaceful way for him to learn to live.

The Master Whislter event, he said, is a community where everyone is supportive.

“It’s a lot of fun. It can be an art," Melville said. "And, it’s just as satisfying as any other art. Certainly my own competition is against myself, and so to continually get better at something is really satisfying.”

Anne Danahy is a reporter at WPSU. She was a reporter for nearly 12 years at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, where she earned a number of awards for her coverage of issues including the impact of natural gas development on communities.