Listen if you dare: Guinness says whistling West Lebanon man hits the highest of notes

  • Andrew Stanford, of West Lebanon, in an audio lab at the Linguistics Department at Dartmouth College, where he recently set a Guinness World Records-recognized mark for the highest note whistled. Stanford is a college student in Michigan and was home for spring break. Three members of the Linguistics Department witnessed his record-setting attempt. (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Friday, March 29, 2019

Setting world records might leave you breathless, but an Upper Valley resident has whistled his way to the top.

Andrew Stanford, 20, of West Lebanon, recently set a record for the highest note whistled, as recognized by Guinness World Records, the folks who write the book on such things.

It wasn’t melodious. Stanford, who chased the record in an audio lab at Dartmouth College while home on spring break, said that when his whistling soars into the audio stratosphere, “It’s really weird. It isn’t natural.” And, he good-naturedly added, “It’s always annoying.”

Indeed, his highest-pitched whistle resembles the fevered cry of a tea kettle more than what we think of as music.

Guinness’ website says Stanford reached 8,372.019 Hz, or C9 in the standard musical notation. He says he can reach higher than the human voice, although it’s claimed that singers like Mariah Carey and a few others are in that territory. A YouTube video of a man trying to match that was met with a comment that said he wasn’t singing, he was squealing like a dolphin.

Even if the sound is sometimes unnatural, Stanford’s whistling ability seems to have come naturally. He said he tried whistling as a boy, but it was in high school, when he was practicing with the Lebanon crew program, that a breakthrough came.

In a phone interview from Grand Rapids, Mich., where the political science major is back at Calvin College, he said he might have been imitating a bird when he first reached new heights. In a follow-up email, he shared this memory: “The river channels amplified sounds and you could hear soft echoes from any sound you made. I remember being on the water joking around with friends, making obnoxious sounds like throat singing, and that’s how I got into whistling.”

These days, he whistles while he works, and whistles while he walks. He whistles tunes that pop into his mind or imitates bird calls. Sometimes birds answer, starting a back-and-forth between the species. The college buildings help the sound carry, so much so that someone recently told him they could hear him all the way across campus. But if Stanford forgets to close the door to his room, one dorm mate has called out, “Stop whistling!” One listener’s melody is another listener’s fingernails on a blackboard.

“I whistle a lot,” Stanford confessed. “Everyone who spends time around me knows I whistle a lot.”

“He whistles all the time at home,’’ said his father, James, a linguistics professor at Dartmouth College who said he’s “very proud of him” for going for the record. “It took a lot of effort.”

Son Andrew isn’t sure why he can whistle such high notes, though a great-uncle credits his years of playing trumpet. Though his dad isn’t a whistler, he notes that the whistler’s mother, Mary Ann Stanford, is “very musical’’ and a regular in community theater.

When he received Guinness’ endorsement, Andrew Stanford told friends and family. Word about the record leaked onto social media and, in the nature of that online gossip and news spreader, Stanford soon heard from near and far. He received a plaque from Guinness, and a friend joked that he should carry it with him as he walks around. Otherwise, how will people know they’ve met a noted whistler?

Stanford thinks he can do better — that is, higher — and would like to consult with a professional whistler to analyze his technique. Yes, there are whistlers who take it to another level.

“There are those who devote their whole life to whistling,” Stanford said. In 2017, the Washington Post wrote a feature about a man in the nation’s capital who has won the whistling world championship four times. There’s an international convention for whistlers and the Orawhistle Global Whistlers’ Forum has more than 1,000 members who discuss all things whistling.

Comments on the Guinness website include several from whistlers who think they can best Stanford’s mark. The affable champ says they are free to try, although he called the Guinness process “boring,” because of the paperwork and verification required.

In any case, he thinks he can whistle even higher, considerably so. He says he has topped 10,000 Hz in a more relaxed setting, but doing it while three Dartmouth linguistics professors were monitoring his record attempt may have created performance anxiety.

If humans can’t knock him off his perch, there’s another sphere where the sky is the limit. Birds can hit extreme high notes, Stanford said. “I’m not retiring. That’s where my competition lies.”

The Guinness World Record citation can be found at www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/highest-note-whistled.

 Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

Andrew Stanford, of West Lebanon, shared these whistling recordings with the Valley News.

Fair warning: Some listeners might find these recordings unpleasant. “It’s always annoying,” Stanford said.