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North Carolina's 19-Year Old World-Record Whistler

Walker Harnden/facebook

Walker Harnden, an oboe student at the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, recently became the world record holder for the highest note whistled. According to Guinness, he whistled a B7; that's the second-highest note on a piano keyboard. WFAE's Duncan McFadyen caught up with Harnden on the phone from Winston-Salem.

MCFADYEN: So when did you first realize you had a talent for whistling?

HARNDEN: Well, I had mostly just done it a lot because I really enjoy it. I started trying actively to improve my whistling around my sophomore year of high school, around the same time when I started playing oboe. And, I’ve just been practicing a lot since then.

MCFADYEN: How much do you practice?

HARNDEN: Well, it varies because I don’t---with oboe I have to go sit in the practice room and I’ll play, you know, for an hour or two or three hours a day. But with whistling, it’s something that I can just do anywhere. So I can be walking to class and just whistling a tune that I’m thinking, or maybe like trying to help compose a piece and help compose melodies, and it adds up to being one to four hours a day really.

MCFADYEN: So is whistling high really the only thing you can do?

HARNDEN: I can whistle, yes, fairly well all up and down the register. I focus particularly on the high range, but I can whistle pretty close to the lowest record as well, actually.

MCFADYEN: When did you get the idea to go for the world record?

HARNDEN: I had just noticed that I’d gotten the pitch up pretty high around the time I got to a G7, that’s fairly close to the last few notes on a piano, the last few white keys. And, I just thought that maybe I should see, you know, if anybody else has whistled higher than that, and I noticed that the Guinness record, you know, I had beaten it, so I figured I should apply for it.

MCFADYEN: What was going through your head right before you eventually set the record?

HARNDEN: What was going through my head was “why can’t I hit the note!?” It was so funny, because every time I’d be warming up, I’d get up to the note, and it would be just fine. Then I’d have to tell the camera guy to turn on the camera, the sound guy to get ready. And, as soon as I would get ready to hit it, it just wouldn’t speak, I don’t know if it was anxiety or what, but fortunately in the time that was allotted I managed to get it.

MCFADYEN: And you just got that certificate a few weeks ago, right?

HARNDEN: Yes, I did.

MCFADYEN: What was going through your head when that came in the mail?

HARNDEN: I didn’t know what to think, you know it was crazy, I applied so long ago I had forgotten about it. Then, when it finally came through, it was like “oh my gosh!” It was just very shocking. I was surprised.