CHAPEL HILL — Walker Harnden of Pittsboro has just whistled his way into the record books.
Harnden, a 19-year-old sophomore oboe major at The UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, recently whistled the highest note anyone is known to have ever whistled.
Twelve weeks later, his achievement was certified and posted by The Guinness Book of World Records:
“The highest note whistled is a B7 (3951 Hz), which was achieved by Walker Harnden (USA) at the Hoad Recital Hall, University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem, North Carolina, USA, on 7 November 2013.”
The “B7” note is the B just below the high C on a piano.
The previous record for highest note whistled was held by Jennifer Davies of Canada, who whistled the second E above middle C at the Impossibility Games in Dachau, Germany, on Nov. 6, 2006.
She still holds the record, from that same event, for lowest note whistled: the F below middle C.
Harnden says he’s leaving that one alone.
“She has me beat there by a whole step,” he said, “and I don’t want to take away all of her glory.”
He says he didn’t set out to break the record. It just kind of happened. Whistling has become something of a passion for him – a way of making music just about anywhere, at just about any time, without having to lug his oboe around. And it’s a handy tool for composing music.
Harnden whistles “all the time,” up to four or five hours a day.
“To be honest, there was a good friend of mine who was very good at whistling, and I decided I wanted to be a good whistler like he was,” he said.
Harnden admits now that he irritated his parents and friends for years, until finally “I got good enough that it became a pleasant sound.”
About a year and a half ago, he realized that his top note was higher than any examples he could find on the Internet. Soon, he found that it was higher than anything recorded in the Guinness Book.
“So I figured I might as well apply for it,” he said.
Oboe professor Robin Driscoll at the UNC School of the Arts says he was astounded when Harnden whistled for him.
“It was pretty impressive,” he said. “He kept going higher and higher, an octave higher, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
Driscoll says he can’t imagine how anyone produces that tone at such a high pitch.
“I think his record will be secure for a while,” he said with a laugh.
Harnden attended Northwood High School in Pittsboro but says he “grew up” in Chapel Hill, where his family always went to shop and dine out.
He aspires to play oboe in a symphony orchestra, or in the orchestra pit of an opera house.
Driscoll thinks his second-year student will go far.
“I think he’s very talented,” he said. “He’s a dedicated worker, and I think he has a lot of potential.”