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The Day Before the Night Before Christmas
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 2013 Synergy, Port Townsend, WA
Engineer: Neville Pearsall
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: Did You (BSR151)
Current Release: Did You (BSR151)

I am a good whistler, something I do almost without being aware I am doing it. I can whistle both on the “in” and on the “out” breaths with no change in the tone and no breaks in the timing. People often stop me on the street to tell me how much they enjoy hearing me. There is a caveat: I only whistle when I am “happy and go-lucky.” Maybe they stop me because I broadcast being happy.


I remember the day I first learned to whistle. I was walking home from fifth grade in Renton, WA, an uphill, 12-block walk, lugging my trombone. Although 7th Street had the steepest hill, that route passed by an Italian man's garlic field that to this day brings me nostalgia. Also, a flat-top wooden fence separated the elevated sidewalk from the road a good 10-feet below. I loved to walk that fence.

Everyday going to and from school, I had been trying to learn to whistle. Maybe it was that instead of concentrating on whistling I was watching my footing or balancing the trombone or simply awash in the strange serenity the man's field always gave me-- I dunno. But halfway along the fence it happened-- my first whistle. I was so surprised I fell off the fence and down into the road below.

I could whistle! It was pretty tuneless for a long time and merely added to the many other fascinating noises I could make like sounding like a machine gun, talking like Donald Duck, imitating drops of water and rainstorms. The list goes on. Once it led my father to cry out, “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby! Won't you please knock off the sound effects?!! Life had a soundtrack and I was the foley guy.

There is a particular energy in a household with young kids on the day before the night before Christmas. They are trying to be good and yet are all keyed up, alternating between tiptoeing and tearing around the house. It's too exciting! There's stuff under the tree. TONIGHT is Christmas Eve. Santa will come and there will be more stuff! Such it was where our sons, Kody and Sam, grew up.

Our old Victorian has a steep staircase that ends at the front door. Janette's and my fond desire was to be able to afford to carpet them while the kids were still young. We finally managed to do so, a pre-Christmas gift to ourselves. That year the stairs took on a sound effect: thump-thump-thump-thump-BANG! The boys, still in their “sleeper-pajamas” phase, had learned they could slide down the new carpet and slam into the front door to stop. That sound effect escalated as Christmas got nearer.

It Was The Day Before the Night Before Christmas is the tune I made up to catch the thumping and bumping of their not-so-pent-up excitement. The long title is because those words are the meter of the tune. I'd sing the first (and only) verse line to the boys, letting them know I was on to them. Then I'd whistle the rest. I did this for years, only at Christmas. It was hard to whistle the fast, syncopated notes of the 12-stairs being thumped, so I never ever thought about playing it on the dulcimer.

After whistling this tune for 30 years I chanced to be a guest in the home of Eliane (ET) and Gerri Teyssier of Cincinnati, OH. ET arranged and played Baroque and Renaissance pieces for the dulcimer. I whistled the tune for her since it has similar qualities. “You should play that on the dulcimer,” she told me. So I finally learned to do so. Those thumpings were as hard to play as they were to whistle.

Both of the Teyssiers set me a challenge that weekend. Gerri, a master of the French game of pétanque, schooled me in the game by handing me 49-straight losses over our three days. I was learning from a master. He made it fun, though. We drank Pastis, had Armagnac, smoked little cigars and pitched boules. I now play everyday. Winning that one last game from Gerri gave me a new passion, French-style. Yes, I aspire to be good but, like with my dulcimer, I mostly aspire to have fun. Certainement!

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