“When I went to the whistler’s convention for the for the first time, it was like coming out of the desert after 40 years and finding your tribe.”
Born into a musical family and inspired by his father who sang, whistled and played multiple instruments, Steve Herbst began whistling and simulating the oboe, clarinet, and flute from “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev at the age of 7 to develop his three-octave range. At the time, whistling was just a private thing he enjoyed on his own — not until college when he filled in for a whistling performance and blew everyone away. He went on to compete in the International Whistlers Competition and was crowned the Grand Champion in 2002.
For this New Yorker, whistling is a way to entertain the audience and express himself. Around the mid-20 century, in what Steve referred to as the golden age of whistling, whistlers used to be at the center of entertaining industry and travel with the big bands. But today, his pursuit of whistling as a serious art form is often met little recognition or even ridicule.
In the past, Steve has invested thousands of dollars making his own CD, website and preparing for whistling competitions. As much as he would love work as a full-time whistler, it’s almost impossible to make a living out of whistling alone. He has learned to keep a balance. It used to be one between whistling and his job in an advertising company. It has now become one between whistling and his career as a psychiatric social worker in substance abuse treatment in Brooklyn.