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April 8, 2006

Glee Club grad makes a career of his whistling

Daily Pennsylvanian (PA):

Steve Herbst whistles while he works -- it's his job. Herbst is a professional whistler, and he's also an alumnus of Penn's Glee Club. He performed for the club Monday night, speaking to members of the singing group about following his true calling -- which, in his case, meant giving up his law and business careers and whistling his way through life.

Herbst began whistling at the age of 7 and brought his talent everywhere he went, including Penn. "People used to come in and stick their heads in the doorway and say, 'What was that? What were you just whistling?'" he said. Penn was a place for Herbst to fine-tune his whistling skills. "My best friend and I used to go into Houston Hall, and when no one else was around we would close the door, he would play the piano, and we would just jam together. That was how I developed and evolved my style -- blues improvisational whistling."

But whistling was not Herbst's immediate calling. After graduating from Penn, he attended law school and went on to practice business in the advertising industry for 30 years. His real love, whistling, was only a hobby. But in 1995, Herbst decided it was time for a change and began whistling on a professional level. He has spent the last 11 years competing in international whistling competitions, performing as a soloist and even with a full-blown orchestra.

His most memorable show, he said, was at the Kennedy Center in Washington. "I figured that, at this stage in my life, it was time to try to do something that I really loved and that people find special and usual and make a living out of it." While Herbst did not attain whistling fame until much later, he said that his years at Penn had a powerful impact on his future. "My years at Penn influenced everything about where I am now. Having an Ivy League education was obviously an advantage; people were more interested in hiring me because I was a Penn grad," he said.

Glee Club members found Herbst's style to be musically refreshing at his performance Monday night. "Musically it was interesting because it's something you don't hear every day, and I like the way he applied whistling to various types of music," Engineering freshman Kyle Andrews said.

Other members compared the whistling to a musical instrument. "Musically it's impressive how much he sounds like a flute or a theremin. It was very impressive. Clearly, he puts a lot of energy in to whistling," College junior Ben Winter said. Herbst will also be featured later this year in a documentary called "Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling. "

He has won numerous competitions, including the International Grand Champion Prize at the International Whistlers Competition in 2002, and International Whistling Entertainer of the Year in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Posted by acapnews at April 8, 2006 12:19 AM