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Wilson County whistler targets world title

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“I didn’t know there was a whistling competition two years ago until a friend told me about it,” Sonnier said recently. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna see what I can do.’ It was fun. It was amazing to see all the people who came from eight different countries.”

The 2007 event drew 43 contestants, 14 in the women’s division. Sonnier skipped last year’s convention which was held in Japan.

A native of Peru, Ind., she discovered her “God gift” as a child at age 9. “My dad had a record of Elmo Tanner, a famous whistler, and I would copy him. Then I found out that I could do it with other songs,” said the retired registered nurse.

 

Whistling in churchPat Sonnier will whistle several songs at Bartons Creek Baptist Church (1530 Bartons Creek Road) on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 25.

Also on the guest list will be singer Jacob Young, singer-pianists Britney McGrew and Morgan Burns from the Tennessee School for the Blind, and gospel artist Terry Weeks.

Weeks will perform 2-2:30 p.m., followed by a blend of congregational singing and the other guests 2:30-4 p.m.

The event is the monthly hymn sing, a 55-year tradition among Wilson County Baptist churches.  For more information about the International Whistlers Convention, go to www.whistlingiwc.com.  

 

“At first my parents told me, ’Go outside, Pat. You’re making too much noise.’ Then they found out that people really enjoyed it.”

The child whistler began entering local talent shows and won lots of blue ribbons. She entertained crowds through grade school and high school and whistled in high school musicals.

Sonnier nipped her whistle in the bud for four decades while she worked and raised a family. Widowed for four years, she married John Sonnier in 1997.  

“One of her girlfriends told me, ‘Your wife is a real good whistler.’ She whistled for me,” said John, “and I thought, ‘That’s amazing.’ She didn’t tell me she whistled when I met her. She truly is an amazing whistler, one in a million. She has good delivery and a lot of breath.”

At the 2007 contest, Sonnier performed “Skater’s Waltz” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” This year she plans to whistle “The Blue Danube” and “Unchained Melody.”

“I wasn’t nervous because I’ve done things like this,” Sonnier said of her first adventure at a world-class competition, “but it was something different. It was a learning experience. I’ve changed my style. Now I try to sound more like a piccolo. I‘ve taken some of the vibrato out and given it more of a clear tone.”

Practice and listening are two keys to being an excellent whistler, said Sonnier, who used to tape record her whistling and listen to it so she could critique herself, but she also confesses that it helps to be born a good whistler.

She practices about 30 minutes most days in preparing for the upcoming contest, and she entertained about two dozen times last year at churches and senior adults banquets. She also has recorded three CDs of tunes.

“She is an introvert and I’m an extrovert. She told me she wouldn’t do anything with it without me,” John said. “I’m the pushy husband. I find her things and book her places and talk her up and push the CDs. I sort of host it for her; she doesn’t like to talk a lot.”

Pat, who has two daughters and three grandchildren, cultivates other talents. She is a gifted quilt maker and sings first soprano with the Wilson County Arts Alliance group Choral Dynamics (she’s temporarily on furlough).

But she loves whistling. Her free shows normally run 30 minutes long with about seven to eight songs. “I like to do a mix of oldies and light classical and some well-known popular tunes,” she said.

And the No. 1 most requested song she is asked to perform? You guessed it: “The Andy Griffith Show” theme.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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