WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Walker Harnden sat patiently near the empty entrance to Watson Hall, the music building at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, scrolling through his phone.
He was early, which can be unusual for a college kid, and quiet, which can be unusual for him. But he is unfailingly polite and he was curious, too. I had asked to meet with him after learning that he had been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for hitting the highest note ever whistled - B7.
Odd though it may be, Harnden’s feat nonetheless has caused something of a stir. He’s fielded interview requests from across the state, and a video of the record-setter has netted more than 70,000 views online, which prompted a school official to quip only half-jokingly that Harnden, a third-year oboe major, “is kind of like our Chris Paul.”
“It’s not something I set out to do,” Harnden said. “It just kind of happened. But yeah, I guess it’s sort of interesting. I take it as an accomplishment.”
Ever since his beleaguered parents can remember, Harnden, who grew up in Pittsboro, has whistled for up to five hours a day.
“Since elementary school at least,” said Kory Goldsmith, his mother. “I just took it to mean that he was happy.”
Harnden agrees that was the case, then allows that it must have gotten annoying at times in his house. But as it turned out, he was gifted musically and he was darned good at whistling.
“I could sit there for hours and do it,” he said, a mischievous grin spreading across his face. “After a while I could pretty much hear a tune and then whistle it. Sometimes when I’m outside I’ll start and see if I can get birds to start singing.”
Somewhere along the way, he also realized that he could hit some pretty high notes. And with some time on his hands, he started goofing around on the Internet and discovered that there was actually a world record for whistling.
In 2006, a Canadian woman named Jennifer Davies hit a second E above middle C at something billed as the Impossibility Games held in Dachau, Germany.
As someone who can’t play a kazoo, I have no earthly idea what that means. But musically inclined people who do tell me that it’s impressive and, as the name of the competition suggests, nearly impossible to do.
At any rate, however, Harnden knew he could beat it and figured he might as well apply for the record. How many chances does anybody get to be the best in the world at anything?
There are two ways to go about getting in the Guinness Book of World Records, Harnden learned.
The first is by paying someone to record the attempt and then wage a campaign through television or the Internet.
“Some people pay thousands to try and get theirs verified,” Harnden said. “But that just wasn’t viable for me.”
The next is to get two independent local experts - music teachers, say - who have absolute listening pitch to verify the claim to the satisfaction of the Guinness folks.
Since Harnden was at UNCSA, he was able to get that done, though not without some difficulty.
“Trying to get two music professionals who have open time at the same time is harder than you think,” he said.
Once he had “judges” lined up, Harnden said, it was a simple matter of warming up and getting a couple guys from the film school to record the session and post it to a Guinness Book Facebook account. He did that in the spring.
“Ten minutes of recording and we were done,” he said.
A few weeks later, Harnden received official notice that he had indeed broken the record. His prize? He received in the mail a certificate that he now has hanging on his refrigerator.
“People come over and see it and say, ‘You ought to put that in a frame,’” he said. “I think about it once in a while, but in the course of my day that’s about the last thing that will cross my mind.”
Still, it is an impressive thing. Word began to spread through the miracle of the Internet. A YouTube video started picking up steam, and people began seeking him out. He even got a mention last month in a quirky weekly newspaper column called “News of the Weird” - usually an outlet for stupid criminals and people who get their heads stuck in toilets.
However it came, the little bounce for UNCSA wasn’t a bad thing, either.
“The extra exposure is nice,” said Lauren Whitaker, the news services manager for the school. “People who might not have heard of us do, then they might do a little research and think they might want to enroll or know somebody who would.”
A few seconds later, as Harnden was whistling a few familiar tunes for a video camera, Whitaker came up with the Chris Paul analogy.
Harnden’s mom isn’t quite buying that, but she is nevertheless proud of her son.
“It’s unique and something he’s done all on his own,” Goldsmith said.
As for the world champion high-note whistler, Harnden said he expects a challenge soon.
“Somebody will try to beat me,” he said. “But I think I’ve got a little more left.”
Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, https://www.journalnow.com
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