The Whistling Orchestra, 2016


The Whistling Orchestra is an orchestral score and performance for human whistlers based on the history of music at work. Looking specifically at the history of work songs, whistles and hums from the city of Nottingham from pre-industrialisation to the present day, the score traces a history of labour, agency and expression.

Nottingham has a fascinating history of communal whistling as a democratic form of music making adopted by Nottingham miners. Historically whistling has been used as an expression of agency, tool of resistance and mode of self-expression as a vocalisation of labour and memory.

Developed through historic research as well as public contribution the project invited local residents to share experiences, practices and memories of music making at work. The resultant score is performed by an orchestra of local whistlers, Nottingham People’s Choir and Mellers Primary School, and headlined by Nottinghamshire’s world champion whistler Sheila Harrod.

Performances to date:

Primary, Nottingham, February 2016

Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, April 2016

Polyphonic Music Festival, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, July 2016

Also accompanying this project have been in-conversation events between artist Emma Smith and Professor Marek Korczynski (Professor of Sociology of Work, University of Nottingham) on the history of whistling and work songs. From the factories of Radford to the country fields they have explored whistles and ditties as a democratic form of music making and act of solidarity. Looking at how music is used at work and by whom these events have unravelled the psychologies at play when we are made to listen to music while we work and the forms of protest and defiance that are enacted when we produce it for ourselves. Looking at both historical and contemporary practices these discussions explore the subtle manipulations and enactments of power, identity and agency through whistle and song.