When 26-year-old Sean Devey whistles in your ear it’s a thing of beauty.
Seriously, this is no joke.
When he puckers up his lips and whistles classical songs, it sounds like a lone violin lovingly serenading you with sweet whisper-soft notes echoing through your ears and pretty much melting your heart.
He’s that good at whistling.
In fact, the Pasadena resident is an elite level whistler who will be competing in The Masters of Musical Whistling International Festival and Competition on Sept. 22- 24 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Hollywood.
Yes, a whistling competition is a real thing.
“I think, like a lot of folks, you just kind of walk around and whistle, but at some point I guess I realized I was kind of good and I enjoy whistling a lot,” said Devey, who has been preparing for the competition by doing what he pretty much does every day, just whistling.
“I do a straight forward pucker whistle and I’ll whistle anything. Whenever there’s a song stuck in my head, I’ll whistle it absentmindedly as I go about my day,” he said.
The competition is produced by Carole Anne Kaufman, an elite whistler who wants to make sure people realize that whistlers are musicians, too.
“Our mission is all about bringing whistling to the forefront of the mainstream. Whistling has kind of been the little lost instrument that people decided didn’t matter and myself and my colleagues have spent decades bringing whistling into the forefront as an amazing and legitimate instrument,” said Kaufman, a two-time International Whistling Grande Champion at the now defunct International Whistlers Convention.
“We are musicians, that is first and foremost. We love music and we love to whistle,” she said.
About 60 contestants are coming from all over the world to whistle in five competitive divisions where they will show off their skills performing classical and popular songs. Some will whistle alongside a live band for a chance to earn the coveted title of World Champion Whistler. There’s even a whistler’s karaoke party planned.
And just like there are different types of musicians, Kaufman said there are different styles of whistling that will be happening at the competition. They include puckering, which is when people simply pucker up their lips and blow, there’s also palatal whistling, throat whistling, hand whistling and finger whistling.
“What other instrument, other than the voice, literally comes with no external instrument. There is nothing between me and my music. I don’t even need my vocal chords, literally it’s just air,” she said.
It turns out whistlers can do a lot with just air.
“Just as many musical genres as there are, there are people who whistle in those genres. I love pop music, I do rock ballads and I’m a power whistler. That’s what I’m known for, being clear and powerful. My music is really piercing and on a good day it can make somebody cry,” she said.
Kaufman, who has even released a whistling album titled “Windsongs,” first launched her international competition in 2015 and besides her event, there is also a large whistling competition in Japan and an online international competition.
“I created spaces for us just to get together and not be judged and just have fun and jam and just enjoy and be in an environment where your art is respected,” she said.
Like many other competitors, Devey has been whistling casually for most of his life. He learned about the competition online and since people had always told him he was pretty good at whistling, he decided to audition for the competition. His skills landed him in the elite division.
“It is an instrument and you can do things with whistling that are different from what you can do with other instruments,” said Devey, who is a graduate student studying aerospace engineering at CalTech.
He’ll be competing in the popular and classical music divisions and he’s been practicing with songs like “Salut d’Amour” by composer Edward Elgar, which he flawlessly performed over the phone during an interview.
“It’s definitely going to be an interesting weekend at the competition. Something a little bit outside your normal experience,” he said.
Masters of Musical Whistling International Festival and Competition
When: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sept. 22; 1:30-7:30 p.m. Sept. 23; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 24
Where: Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
Tickets: Starting at $25. Some competitions are free to enter. For more infromation, go to mastersofwhistling.com.