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Is That A Bird in Your Mouth, or Are You Just That Good?

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Now that Peter, Bjorn and John are bringing whistling back, I've started to notice other young folks brushing up on their whistling. I was in Pinkberry yesterday wondering if I could disprove my friend's assault that the stuff tastes like foot cream (I can see where he's coming from, but it really doesn't; after years of Tasti D-Lite, you're immune), and some of my fellow berry-hoppers were busting out the tweets. They weren't very good, but it was pretty endearing. I've never been great, myself, but I can supplement clapping with a decent cat-call, and I can usually get a dog to come over and see what I want. But what I can't do is whistle national anthems, "Amazing Grace" or "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"--these are feats I delegate to professional whistlers, the most adorable of which has to be Cal Fenwick. This Ontario college boy has no trouble launching his warble up and down chromatic scales and he's a soloist for Canadian orchestras. Of course, even Cal admits he's not exactly the daddy of whistling, yet--that would have to go to Chris Ullman, the four-time national and international champion who has entertained Bush in the Oval Office with his renditions of "A-Train" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." But please: if you buy tickets to see Mr. Ullman, refrain from kissing him. He'll have none of it, as he makes sure to note on his site:

Q. Does kissing affect your ability to whistle?
A. Yes. Kissing makes my lips mushy, which is bad for sustaining a pucker. I refrain from kissing 24 hours before a performance and 48 hours before a competition. Yes, I'm serious.

We'll take a hint. But you can probably kiss birds without ruining their set, right? Professional whistler Robert Stemmons offers "serious training for capable birds!" In his five volume instructional set, you can choose your weapon: "Oklahoma!", "Flight of the Bumblebee" or my personal favorite--"Bridge Over the River Kwai."

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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