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Making sweet music is kid’s play for prodigies

It is appropriate that “Yuto” sounds a little like “YouTube,” because the former is definitely a hit on the latter. There is Yuto Miyazawa, ripping his ax on “Crazy Train”: more than 1.4 million views. There he is again, tearing it up on “Crossroads” with blues legend G.E. Smith and Moonalice, and picking on “Freebird,” and wailing on Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spa
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

It is appropriate that “Yuto” sounds a little like “YouTube,” because the former is definitely a hit on the latter. There is Yuto Miyazawa, ripping his ax on “Crazy Train”: more than 1.4 million views. There he is again, tearing it up on “Crossroads” with blues legend G.E. Smith and Moonalice, and picking on “Freebird,” and wailing on Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Not bad for a 9-year-old.

Certainly YouTube hasn’t seen the last of Yuto. He is the rare combination of guitar player who sounds like he has been playing the club circuit longer than Buddy Guy, yet enough of a kid to suggest his most exciting days are ahead. That’s just the way prodigies work.

The Internet is rife with video of musical performances, but those of youngsters with special talent who dazzle with their instruments have a unique ability to elicit “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as well as Web hits.

A small sampling along with Yuto might include the piano stylings of Chris and Alex Lu of Bellevue, Wash.; virtuoso violinist Phillip Finkle of Austin, Texas; and drummer extraordinaire Igor Falecki of Gdansk, Poland.

In the case of 9-year-old Yuto, he had already built a small following in clubs in his native Japan, and particularly at the Bauhaus Club in Tokyo, known as a haven for American and British rock fans. Steve Bernstein, an American businessman who lived in Japan for more than five years, was captivated enough by Yuto’s skill that he signed on to manage Yuto and brought him to the U.S.

“It dawned on me that he was one of the best guitarists I’d ever seen, and he was only eight,” said Bernstein, an avid guitar player himself. “I thought he’d be much bigger in the U.S. I got him on ‘Conan,’ and Ellen (DeGeneres) showed his video on her show. Major League Baseball used him.

Right now, Yuto says his goals are to keep improving, to play someday with Ozzy Osbourne, and to have a “Yuto” model guitar. And to keep playing live in cool places like New York. “I received great responses from the audience at my first New York live performance,” said Yuto. “Some audiences were throwing things which scared me, but I was very happy.”

In the world of classical music, few people throw things, unless you count accolades directed at the Lu brothers. Chris is now 12, and has been playing piano for eight years. Alex is nine, and has been at it for about four years.

Chris became interested in the piano when he was only a tot, and his grandmother came by to baby-sit. “My mom plays the piano,” said the boys’ mother, Mei. “We asked her to come by and take care of Christopher after he was born. That’s why we got a piano, so she would have something to do. She would play to Christopher all the time. She said whenever he started crying, she would play and he would stop crying.”

Shortly after Alex was old enough to tell the black keys from the white, he expressed an interest in playing also. Now the brothers are not only studying piano and practicing, but winning competitions. When Chris was eight he won his age group in the Seattle Chopin competition, and Alex won it four years later. The season runs from November to April, and it’s a hectic time.

“My friends say they’d probably die of anxiety,” Chris said. “They wonder how I can get so much piano time in.”

Said Alex, of playing in competitions: “Sometimes I get nervous, but usually when I get about halfway into a piece I start to cool down and lose my nervousness.”

Family also played a major role in leading Phillip Finkle to the violin. Now 16 and a sophomore at McCallum High School, a fine arts academy in Austin, he recently won a major violin competition sponsored by KMFA, the city’s classical music radio station.

It all started with his big brother Kenneth, now a student at the University of Houston. He had been a violinist also before giving it up. And their dad is a music teacher.

“Phillip has been hearing violin music since before he was born, hearing his brother playing,” said Beth Finkle, his mom. “When Phillip was four, he was given a choice of piano or cello or violin. He wanted to do what his big brother did.”

Now Phillip divides his time among being a regular kid, practicing the piano, entering competitions and even helping other students in the school’s orchestra master their fingering and bowing techniques.

While it’s too soon yet, he is thinking about a double major in college: violin performance and video game design. So if someday you see a game called “Violin Hero,” you’ll know where it came from.

Like Yuto, 7-year-old Igor Falecki’s videos are popular among those who love music and are fascinated by young people who can play them like more experienced folks. He has his own Web site — igorfalecki.com, in both English and Polish — which features his videos, biographical info and more.

His dad Artur is a bass guitarist and his mom Sylwia is a singer. In 2008, Igor was named Best Drummer in the New Hope category by Top Drummer magazine. The kid even endorses products: drumstick manufacturer Vic Firth has made special sticks with Igor’s autograph on them.

Artur said Igor was influenced by musicians who came to the house, and one day he took matters into his own hands. “When he was three, he began to bang some rhythms at home, building his drum set using everything he could find: toys and pillows as well as some kitchen utensils,” Artur Falecki said. “His banging made sense, so as a Christmas gift he got his first real drum set at the age of four. It was plainly evident that drumming was his passion.”

Later, Igor became a student of famed drummer and instructor Dom Famularo, and has played with lots of professional musicians. In 2006, when Igor was four, his father put a video of him on YouTube. It has since attracted almost three million views.

“In the future,” Artur said, “we would like Igor to be a real musician, to record albums, to perform live with musicians around the world. But most of all, we want him to enjoy playing, and to be satisfied with what he does and achieves.”

And don’t look now, but Igor’s sister is learning the violin.

Even though they’re rare, the music world can never have enough prodigies.