Hump Day: Sympathy for ‘The Whistler’ in a Nana-state stage scolding

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Our next Friday the 13th doesn’t occur until June, but that doesn’t mean superstition doesn’t surround us daily. I’ll bet you that June 13 will be a slow day for special events such as weddings and important meetings. When it comes to superstitions, I don’t let them run my life – not even a little bit. I think they’re silly. I don’t walk under ladders because it’s unsafe, not because it’s unlucky. It’s common sense.

I did witness a bit of public superstition recently that was quite dramatic, actually. International best-selling singer Nana Mouskouri held her last concert in North America in Moncton as part of her 80th birthday tour. Moncton ended up being the last stop on the Canadian leg of the tour because the American leg of the tour had been cancelled due to work visa complications.

Since she’s turning 80 in October, Nana’s international touring days are likely almost over, so those who saw her in concert in Moncton could very well have been attending the last concert she’ll ever give in North America, period. It was a fitting farewell with standing ovations and bravos. She started right on time at 8 p.m. and performed until about 9:45 p.m., definitely giving fans their money’s worth.

Nana Mouskouri
Nana Mouskouri

I was lucky enough to snag a couple of front-row tickets as a birthday present for an aunt, however she was not feeling well that day, so I brought my mother instead. Despite a bit of hesitancy at first, she ended up absolutely loving the concert. Seeing a star perform from the front row is always an experience. I love watching the interaction with the band, the facial expressions and how they ‘really look’ up close without the soft lenses of photography or being altered by computer editing.

Those who sit in the front row are usually super fans. They buy their tickets the day they go on sale and try to make sure they’re good and healthy on the day of the concert. After all, it’s not every day that you get such great seats to a concert!

One gentleman just a few seats down from us was clearly one of Nana’s super fans. He would was just so happy to see her. Obviously, he had been looking forward to this concert for a very long time. He would jump up and clap enthusiastically often. I’m pretty sure he was the first one to stand up during her welcoming standing ovation as the concert began. He would applaud with his hands over his head. Like I said, he was a super fan and he was having a great time.

Now, before I tell you what happened, I have to tell you that before Nana walked on stage, a video montage played on the screen showing her entire career from her early appearances on black-and-white television to her (supposed) farewell concert a few years ago. (Obviously, she decided to come back.) One scene showed her just before she went on stage many years ago. In what appeared to be a pre-show ritual, she knocked on the wall in a very precise pattern before walking on stage. Immediately, I thought it looked like a good-luck charm or superstition on her part. Harmless, though – or so I thought.

Now, back to our super fan. He clapped. He cheered. He laughed. He was enamoured by Nana’s presence. He was happy, if not ecstatic.

But then it happened. As the band played the introduction to what he recognized was one of his favourite songs, he whistled – you know, a whistle as part of showing happiness toward the performer. Well, Nana was having none of that, let me tell you! From the stage, as the band continued to play, she looked down at the front-row super fan and asked, “Did you whistle?” Either he was in shock or couldn’t believe she was talking to him, so she repeated her question in front of the sold-out audience of 2,200 in the hall.

I don’t know if he responded. He was probably in shock. I felt terrible for him. His idol was admonishing him from the stage. Finally, she explained her question. “You should never whistle at a singer or actor. It’s very bad luck,” she said, before instructing her band to start the song over. Take that, super fan!

This was a new one for me, but the origin of whistling being considered bad luck is explained this way in the Wikipedia entry for whistling, “Related to a similar rule for sailing ships, it is considered bad luck for an actor to whistle on or off stage. As original stage crews were hired from ships in port (theatrical rigging has its origins in sailing rigging), sailors, and by extension theatrical riggers, used coded whistles to communicate scene changes. Actors who whistled would confuse them into changing the set or scenery and could result in injury or death. In today’s theatres, the stage crew normally uses an intercom or cue light system.”

Well, who knew? I certainly didn’t And I’m sure Nana Mouskouri’s super fan didn’t know either. He was just showing some love! Since then, the poor well-meaning guy has become known by many who attended the concert as ‘The Whistler.’

The point of all of this is that – no matter how famous you are – you can be a prisoner of superstition. I was stunned when she stopped the concert to educate an audience member on the whistling superstition. I think we all felt awkward for him.

Getting chewed out in front of 2,200 people by your favourite singer must have been awful. What was otherwise a delightful concert-going experience was tainted by a ridiculous superstition with a base in (ancient) reality but which holds no water in this day and age. Hopefully Nana’s super fan still loves her, but performers – no matter how famous – should realize that a fan’s heartfelt admiration is worth more than superstition.

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