March 7, 2003     
     Blow by Blow    Healing Music    Sound Art    One to Many    New Yawk Accent    Off Stage  

Michael Barimo whistling "Sempre Libera" from La Traviata.
PHOTO: Pema Norbu


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hile most people consider themselves lucky if they can whistle "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Jingle Bells," Barimo prefers "Sempre Libera" from Verdi's opera La Traviata.

Barimo, an 18-year-old freshman at Columbia University, has come a long way from his cribside where he mimicked the shrill cry of his canary, Sunshine. Barimo became the first person to whistle at the Carnegie Hall when he performed an aria from Mozart's Magic Flute on March 3, 2003.

It was not the first time Barimo has performed in public. He has won several whistling competitions, including the 1999 Millennium World Championships of Musical Whistling when he was only 15. But his first performance ever was in school, where he happily recalls "taunting his teacher in class."

In spite of having performed at Carnegie Hall, he has yet to win over his fellow students.

"I don't practice as much as I should," said Barimo, adding that his whistling disturbed the other students in his small, crowded dorm.

In a quiet room in the fifth floor of Lerner Hall on the Columbia campus, high above a noisy cafeteria, Michael Barimo began to whistle. It started with a low soft note and rose to a shrill crescendo before fading out on a gentle note again.

arimo, an aspiring opera singer, grew up in Orlando, Fla., singing as soprano boy in the Central Florida Lyric Opera. As he learned to sing arias from various operas, Barimo would whistle to figure out the tunes.

In New York, the soprano Licia Albanese heard Barimo whistling during a difficult operatic passage and, impressed, asked him to whistle at a concert at Alice Tully Hall.

Familiar with various classical musicians, Barimo also listens to music by a wide range of pop artists such as Missy Elliot, Shakira and Pulp.

"I go through phases with pop," said Barimo, explaining that he would get bored with trendy songs after a while. "With opera it's all the time. A month later, it still sounds good."

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