KEY WEST (CBSMiami/FKNB) — Making music with a conch (pronounced “konk”) shell might seem quite unusual, but dozens of people tried it Saturday afternoon, during Key West’s 55th annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest.
When the “Conch Honk” concluded, Delaware’s Jayne Challman and Key West musician Steve Gibson were declared the adult winners — after each one coaxed not just blasts, but actual song excerpts, from the conch’s fluted pink-lined shell.
Challman urged the standing-room-only audience to clap along as she competed, getting their attention with a lively trill and then playing a jazz-flavored fragment from a classical tune.
“The skills needed to blow a conch shell is just to pucker and just try,” Challman said. “Any sound you get out of here is awesome, so just try and you will be successful.”
Challman, said she blows the shell at home to summon neighbors to happy hour.
Blowing into the sea mollusk’s shell is a centuries-old method of signaling in the Florida Keys and Key West. Today the conch shell remains an enduring symbol of the island chain, which is nicknamed the Conch Republic.
Entrants in the 2017 contest ranged from a tiny three-year-old girl to a group of “synchronized swimmers” who performed an ocean-themed skit. All were judged on the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they produced.
Men’s division winner Gibson played a portion of the children’s song “Baby Beluga” to earn his title. Other winners included 13-year-old Kyla Bender, who performed part of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” dressed in a shell-bedecked tiara and a t-shirt that read “Conch Princess.”
The unique contest is presented by the Old Island Restoration Foundation in the garden of Key West’s Oldest House Museum.