One of the most famous whistled melodies in the world is the “The Andy Griffith Show” theme song. The well-known piece can be whistled by many when prompted and on any given day locals and visitors strolling through downtown Mount Airy often find the infectious theme song going through their heads.
With the Mayberry connection to whistling, it is fitting that Zachary Groff of Mount Airy was named winner of the classical adult male division at the 40th annual International Whistlers Convention, held in Louisburg last month. He won by whistling the third movement to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2.
Groff described his first experience at the whistling convention as “one of the most amazing things” in which he’s ever participated.
A piano teacher at Olde Mill Music in downtown Mount Airy, Groff has always loved music. He attended college at the North Carolina School of the Arts for piano.
Whistling has always been a part of Groff’s life. “I have always whistled and I did pretty good at it, but I started to take it to a different level when I began to whistle classical music. I would walk around whistling and people would comment on it and tell me that I was good. I brushed it off at first, but then when someone told me about the International Whistlers Convention in North Carolina, I decided to go for it.”
Individuals from more than 15 countries participated in the convention this year and Groff said it was “the most amazing collection of people — musicians, composers, people who work for the government, just a collection of people from all walks of life in the whistling subculture gathered in this community in North Carolina to celebrate what is truly an art form.”
Whistlers traditionally use the “pucker-style” of whistling, which is what Groff prefers, but he said there are different variations, even a more rare palette-style of whistling.
“People sometimes say, ‘oh, how cute, you whistle,’ but they have no idea what it actually entails…It’s a serious art form,” remarked Groff.
The competitors had to prepare at least two pieces for competition, including one classical piece and one piece in the popular music category. The popular piece had to be less than four minutes but classical could go up to five minutes.
After Groff passed the preliminary rounds, he was part of a group of “about 50 people” who advanced, and he was finally chosen as one of the top 10 finalists from that group.
The point system was described by Groff as “very strict” and competition was fierce. Judges rated contestants in areas of technique, which included breath management, the whistling sound itself, and agility/articulations; presentation, which included rhythm, phrasing, dynamics, and style; and performance, such as visual stage appearance and dramatic impact.
“You have people who have been doing this for years, and here I came in, a first-time competitor. By the end of competition, I had people rooting me on because I am from North Carolina…it was so interesting because with the Mayberry theme song and Mount Airy it was so fitting that I should win, out of people from all over the world.”
Groff said he plans to return to the International Whistlers Convention each year, as whistling is now a permanent fixture in his musical life. “There are people who whistle, and then there are whistlers. I am a whistler. I practice daily, not just whistling tunes I hear in the supermarket or on the radio, but practicing notated classical music while accompanying myself on piano and improvising jazz.”
Practicing takes place on a daily basis for Groff, who said he often composes music for whistling accompanied by instruments. The lack of virtuosic whistlers means there is a shortage of music specifically written for whistling, according to Groff, who said whistlers must “take pieces written for other instruments and arrange them.”
Groff hopes to one day provide those whistlers who would like more tunes to choose from with a “repertoire written specifically for them.”
Multiple videos were recorded of Groff during the competitions, and one shows Groff dressed up in overalls and carrying a fishing rod, as a tribute to “The Andy Griffith Show” theme song for the Variations on a Theme, in the Allied Arts category. The videos are available by going to youtube.com and typing in his full name, Zachary Groff.
Groff wrote the variation on “The Andy Griffith Show” theme specifically for the whistlers convention. It is a piece he has wanted to work with for a long time and he decided to finally write it because “it is one of the most requested things to whistle, and whistlers roll their eyes when asked because it doesn’t necessarily show their skill.”
Groff said he wanted to “surprise the listener” with “virtuosic variations” of the theme song, which he said is a classical theme made popular by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. The six variations he created featured different styles as well as highlighting the chosen accompanying instrument, which in Groff’s case was the piano.
Although Groff wrote six variations on “The Andy Griffith Show” theme song, he had to eliminate two for the final performance because of time limitations. He said the variations piece will be recorded and released, along with other original compositions, in August.
“My goal is to help bring whistling back to the popularity it had around the turn of the 20th century through the 1950s, by composing, performing, and showing the world it’s not just something to do as you walk down the street.”
More information about the International Whistlers Convention, along with a full list of winners, can be found at www.whistlingiwc.com.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1933.