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Opinion

Musical prodigy blooms at young age on ‘YouTube’

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March 12, 2009

All has been relatively quiet in the music world over the past few weeks, and with the exception of U2’s new album, there has been a lack of interesting or noteworthy recent releases. Instead of the usual self-indulgent record reviews, I want to share something a little different this week.

Recently, while navigating the never-ending corridors of YouTube (the Internet Mecca of time-wasting), I was fortunate enough to stumble across one of the most compelling musicians I have ever heard—a precocious acoustic guitar virtuoso who displays a unique, enchanting, once-in-a-lifetime talent. But the most surprising and compelling fact about this young guitar hero? He’s a 12-year-old boy from South Korea.

His name is Sungha Jung, and he has been playing only three years—a shocking fact, considering the skills he displays usually takes decades to master.

I have since found myself returning again and again to his homepage, listening to this little prodigy, who is stoic and wordless as he shares his Mozart-like brilliance with the world. Every pluck of his guitar resounds with precision, and every resulting note radiates with clean, perfect beauty. I readily admit that I will never do anything in my life nearly as well as he plays the guitar.

The songs Sungha plays are diverse array of genres and selections—classical pieces, modern hits and everything in between—ranging from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. His rendition of the timeless “California Dreamin’” is something not to be forgotten.

He began posting videos of himself playing in 2006, and since then, the rest of the world has clearly taken notice. He is already a growing celebrity in his native Korea, appearing on TV shows alongside celebrities and movie stars, cheerfully signing autographs afterwards. His YouTube channel is No. 1 in South Korea, and currently has over 75,100 subscribers worldwide. **

Viewers and supporters have been able to follow his musical and personal development through the 165 videos he has shared over the past three years, and many have remarked that it is a somewhat strange and fascinating phenomenon to be fortunate enough to watch a prodigy develop and grow up through a series of online vignettes.

His music is pure and whimsical and wonderful. There is a certain artful and refreshing (not to mention adorable) quality about watching a boy masterfully operate a guitar that is larger than he is. Sungha’s talent was not born out of the greedy desire to impress girls or get rich—he plays simply for the sake of playing. Watching him fingerpick his way through “Living on a Prayer” with Tomi Paldanius in a small café in Seoul is to understand the wondrous capability of music to cross geographic and cultural barriers.

When I see the occasional joyful smile cross Sungha’s face as he plays, I am reminded that there are few things more special than witnessing raw talent. You can fake being cool, but you can’t fake being good.

**http://www.youtube.com/user/jwcfree. Check it out.

Five stars

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.