Popular US song with the notes B-A-E1, 1890 - 1920
June 11, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

My grandparents had a special tune they'd whistle when separated from their kids in a crowded place. My dad taught me this whistle years ago, and I remember the three notes as B, A, and up an octave with a rapid bend from D# up to E.

Also, according to my dad, these were three consecutive notes in a song that was a favorite of his parents. I think they were the last three notes.

The song would have been popular before 1925, possibly before 1920. Most likely between 1890 and 1920, and popular in upstate New York.

I've tried searching for the song, but haven't found a search engine that supports this kind of oddball query. I've listened to tons of on-line from the era. I have so far struck out. I don't read sheet music, which limits my options to quickly scan for this stuff.

Help me, Metafilter musicologists. What is this song?
posted by zippy to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It would really help to have an audio sample. Can you whistle a recording and upload it somewhere? Then post a link.
posted by hamandcheese at 8:01 PM on June 11, 2013

I doubt it would work, but have you tried soundhound (or something similar?)
posted by symbioid at 8:57 PM on June 11, 2013

Those of you wanting to hear an audio version - I just found this fun new toy that you can use to pick out what this sounds like.

Unfortunately - I just tried doing that, and I cannot name that tune in only three notes, sorry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 PM on June 11, 2013

A long shot, but I immediately thought of 'Someone to watch over me' by Gershwin
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:00 PM on June 11, 2013

You could also try songtapper if you know the rhythm pretty well
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:05 PM on June 11, 2013

I've tried a couple of online whistly and hummy searches, but my 3 - 3.5 notes aren't enough, or their indices don't include the song.
posted by zippy at 11:16 PM on June 11, 2013

Is this the whistle? My dad and mom always used it with us, and with eachother. Apparently it is a "horse whistle" in Skyrim. Not sure of the origins.

Was also wondering if maybe it is a sheepdog pack training whistle, perhaps passed down from ancestors? Here is a sample set of sheepdog whistle commands.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 11:50 PM on June 11, 2013

^^ horse whistle may also be a taxi whistle where you are from. Alternatively, the notes in your family whistle might imitate a birdcall from a songbird indigenous to your ancestors' or parents regional home.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 12:15 AM on June 12, 2013

NorthernAutumn, the whistle has a similar high-low-high pattern to the horse whistle, but this one was definitely on key, and always the same distinct notes, each an equal length, like three quarter-notes at normal tempo. It's not the same as a NYC taxi whistle, either.

The grandparent's regional home(s) were upstate New York and Western Connecticut. I'm from thereabouts and don't recognize it as a familiar birdcall.

But again, the lore from the supposed originators of this family call, via their kid, to their grandkid (i.e, me) was that this was a musical phrase from a song the grandparents liked.
posted by zippy at 12:35 AM on June 12, 2013

Might be fair to guess that it would be the last 3 notes of a musical chorus, rather than a verse?
Community senior songbooks in local nursing homes often have a set of local favourite songs - maybe pay a visit to the ones in your home area to whittle down the favourites? Was also thinking that there were lots of songs at that time involving names "Peg o My Heart", etc - perhaps the song involved one of your grandparents' names or nicknames? Or if it was a song they chose together, maybe the context of their first few dates (church vs jazz club) might narrow it down? [Such a neat question!]
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:02 AM on June 12, 2013

(Noting the high note at the end though, what are the odds that this is the last 3 notes of a ragtime piano piece such as 12th Street Rag? That linked video shows the sheetmusic along with the playing and the big jump an octave up to finish the song. I sang through some 1910s, 1920s songs that I know while thinking about your question, and I haven't noted very many with such a major vocal jump as the last note... which makes me think that it might be a mostly instrumental song)
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:35 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

NorthernAutumn, I think choruses are fair game.

And at the risk of threadsitting, Only an unusual pop. vocal would have that octave jump, as in some sort of surprise bit that became the song's signature. The instrumental and ragtime ideas sound promising.
posted by zippy at 2:23 AM on June 12, 2013

The start of Rhapsody in Blue? My Soundhound says I Only Have Eyes For You from 42nd Street, or Tattoo by Jordin Sparks, amongst other things. Need more info!
posted by inkypinky at 6:00 AM on June 12, 2013

I'm hearing "you know what I mean" from Phil Collins' song of the same name. Earworm!
Any chance either of them were musicians to the extent of creating their own songs for each other?
posted by fish tick at 7:26 AM on June 12, 2013

does it jump a fifth, or an octave and a fifth?
posted by KathrynT at 9:42 AM on June 12, 2013

KathrynT, less than a full octave from A up to E.
posted by zippy at 1:31 PM on June 12, 2013

I don't understand. In two posts you said the jump was an octave, but in your last post you say it's a fifth, from A to E.

Can you clarify?

Is it B- down to A- up to E ("bending" up from D#)?
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:13 PM on June 12, 2013

"In two posts you said the jump was an octave"

I meant "E is in the next octave on a piano keyboard, if you consider the start of the octave as C." The notes are within one octave's span however.
posted by zippy at 2:30 PM on June 12, 2013

This would be a lot easier if you would just record it and post it somewhere.
posted by pracowity at 3:24 PM on June 12, 2013

This would be a lot easier if you would just record it and post it somewhere.

True, but I managed to do okay with the ap linked here. Although I was doing the octave-and-a-fifth thing; with the correction, I still can't name that tune, but it actually sounds familiar in an "I know I've heard it but I can't imagine how" kind of way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:38 PM on June 12, 2013

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