About Sungha (Born South Korea on September 2, 1996)
Hi, I'm Sungha Jung from South Korea.
My dream is to become a professional acoustic fingerstyle guitarist.
I had been watching my dad play the guitar for awhile before I finally jumped on it myself three years ago.
Currently, I am taking drum lessons and teaching myself fingerstyle guitar.
I used to not have tabs for the music that I played in my videos.
I just listen and pick them up directly from the sound source in videos available on the internet.
However, recently, I have started playing with original tabs whenever they are available to me by courtesy of the authors.
My old guitar is custom made by Selma to fit my body size, and on it, Thomas Leeb wrote "Keep on grooving to my friend."
As of Jan. 1st, 2009 Lakewood acts as sponsor for my guitar officially.
I'm very grateful to those prominent guitarists who have had a great influence on my guitar playing.
I'll continue to study them and learn more about interpretation of music and various playing techniques.
My daily practice routine lasts for one to two hours when school is open, but I play up to three hours a day during the school breaks.
It usually takes me two to three days to practice and videotape a new piece but sometimes up to a week for more difficult ones.
Last, but certainly not least, I can't thank Ulli Bogershausen enough for being my musical inspiration.
Sungha Jung “I wanna be a ‘guitarist’ rather than a ‘guitar prodigy’”
Now he is only 12 years old. Only after 3 years since he started playing guitar just for fun, one boy surprised Thomas Leeb from Ostria, Martin Taylor from England, Yoko Ono who is the widow of the late John Lennon. Though it was through streaming video, all who saw his playing shouted 'awesome' without exception
The name of the boy, who is fascinating the eyes and ears of the world-famous musicians with the guitar as big as his body, is Sungha Jung
While it becomes natural that such adjectives as "Guitar prodigy" or "Korean August Rush" proceed before his name, in fact, he is a shy boy of 6th grade in primary school, who even hesitates long to say "I'm Sungha Jung".
I was also fascinated with his playing with the pure and intuitive understanding and full of emotion that cannot be believed from a boy. Even though I wrote some articles about him, it was the beginning of this interview that his ‘Trilogie’ heard from his blog rang in my ears repeatedly and that called to his school without any plan.
A boy met the guitar
I thought that it was so embarrassing request, but his school let me know contact information of his parents’ as it looked familiar to them. I could contact his dad ‘Woochang Jung’, but it was Sungha’s exam period and he would come to Seoul next month for a concert. There seemed no luck to his interview.
But, during exchanging questions and answers by e-mail and phone call with Sungha’s permission, he slowly and carefully started showing himself to me.
[Q] What made you play guitar? I think that many people want to know most.
[A] That’s what I’m asked frequently. (Smiling) Three years before, the third grade and the second semester, it was the beginning that I urged my dad to teach me to play guitar that he was playing frequently. At that time, his playing looks great without any reason. Due to the such an appearance, I seemed to decide to learn the guitar.
[Q] OK. Is your dad the professional musician?
[A] No. He is also amateur player as just a hobby.
[Q] In such a young age, playing guitar with bigger than you looked difficult, I think. What was the most difficult thing when you learned the guitar at the first time?
[A] Frankly, nothing was easy. I could not pose properly due to the big guitar and even pressing the strings was also painful and hard due to small hands.
[Q] 9-year-old is an age easy to give up, but why did you continue to learn the guitar even though it was so hard?
[A] Even if my hands were painful, the guitar sound was really wonderful to me. As my fingers went, there were the different sounds. It was so interesting and pleasant. As the number of tunes I could play increased after hard practice, I could feel a big achievement. After mastering one tune, there was another tune that I wanted to play again and again. It made me not release the guitar. I still have so many tunes that I want to play.
[Q] So then, what is the attraction of the guitar do you think?
[A] Mmmm, Joy can be a joy and sadness can be a sadness… With guitar, I can express as much as what I feel. That’s the attraction of the guitar.
[Q] I heard that you were self-taught.
[A] At first, my dad taught basic things such as the feature and how to play. Later, I could practice as I heard. I practiced with a tab if there is, or did with my own drawing tab after hearing and remembering the beat and the melody.
[Q] Is there a special reason that you adhere to a fingerstyle with your small hands?
[A] Classic is so bored and accompaniment is not funny. BTW, a fingerstyle is so sensuous, funny and pleasant to play. I think that the reason why I could not lose the interest in the guitar is the technical fun from the fingerstyle. Since it can fine-tune the feeling of the song, it’s the ideal style that I want to play.
[Q] How many hours a day do you practice?
[A] About 1~3 hours a day.
[Q] You are still a student. When do you usually practice?
[A] Since the school life is more important anyway, I am practicing after homework and other study including English. When I’m so busy, there is the day that I cannot practice.
[Q] Due to young age, the continuous practice will not easy. How do you overcome when you are not willing to practice?
[A] Mmmm, there was no time that I was not willing to practice so far. Sometimes, I feel distressed because my skill doesn’t get better. But, usually I am anxious to practice another new song. If there is so much homework and I feel tired after long English study, I don’t play guitar. No one forces me to practice. I don’t grip my guitar against my will.
[Q] What do you do when you don’t practice the guitar?
[A] I’m the same as the friends in my age. To play with friends is most funny. But, study in school, English study and guitar practice… I don’t have much time to play.
[Q] Do you like the idol stars or listen to the popular music like friends in your age?
[A] (Some break) I have heard some songs that my friends sing, but I don’t really know Korean pop songs. Since I used to listen to the foreign songs for guitar, I don’t have many chance for Korean pop songs and singers. Maybe I can know them naturally as time goes.
A boy becomes star
Known as 'BlueSea,' he officially began blogging two years ago. You Tube, a U.S. video sharing site, helped in spreading his fame. Posting his performances and providing related information is, of course, the responsibility of his parents, but the blog is a space where he can build musical interest and communicate with his fans which began with just one or two.
Last May, he was given nicknames such as "Guitar prodigy" and "August Rush in Korea" through the popular television program, ‘Star King’. At first, people thought he was just a cute kid with talent, but the professionals' jaws dropped when hearing his performance. Netizens sought out Sungha's performances on blogs and various community web boards were filling with his video clips. There are currently 1,330,000 views just on his YouTube channel today. He truly is a 'star.'
[Q] The title of your blog is 'Blue Sea.' What does 'Blue Sea' mean?
[A] "I really like the sea. My personal emoticon in front of my nickname when blogging is depicting a dolphin swimming in the blue sea. Doesn't it fit me? (Laughs)"]
[Q] Do you maintain your own blog? There are many resources that seem a bit too professional for an elementary student.
[A] "You're right, if I were maintaining the site, I would not be able to do as much. My dad records me performing and it's also up to him to upload them on the blog. I sometimes visit the site, but don't have time to check every messages or reply. So I don't really know when people leave negative comments, ha ha ha."]
[Q] I see. You've been well-known amongst netizens thanks to your blog, but you're become very popular after appearing on the TV program, 'Star King,' right?
[A] "Yes, many people began recognizing me after appearing on 'Star King.' Surprisingly, there were many Korean immigrants who saw me on 'Star King' through You Tube. I was in awe."
[Q] At that time, your appearance was a big issue as ‘guitar prodigy’ and ‘August rush in Korea’. I want to know your feeling when you hear this kind of words.
[A] Frankly, it’s not bad to hear. But, I want to win the recognition as a guitarist rather than those kind of words. Of course, I don’t have enough ability yet, but I want to stand on the stage, in front of the audiences, as a real guitarist after practicing more.
[Q] Those kind of reputation may be a mental burden to you in such a young age.
[A] ‘Prodigy’ is not what I like so much. If the word ‘prodigy’ is added to the front of my name, it seems that people hope something special to me. Frankly, it becomes a burden little bit to me.
[Q] When I saw the show on TV, I could know that you’re a shy boy.
[A] Yes. After the show ‘Star King’, there were said to be many request for the broadcast. But I would not appear on TV if at all possible because I cannot speak well and am too shy. I want to show only my playing. You are asking video greetings, but I couldn’t with shame. Please understand me.
[Q] Sure. If seeing the uploaded video on your blog or YouTube so far, you seem to prefer a lyrical melody to a bright one.
[A] Right. I prefer lyrical tunes. Of course, I also like bright tunes and have played many bright ones. But, most tunes that I want to try to play after listening are that kind of atmosphere.
[Q] I heard that a company who sponsored the guitar appeared after listening to your play.
[A] There is called ‘Selma Guitar’ who is sponsoring me from about two years ago. The manufacturer of Selma guitar saw my video and contacted me with the opinion - 'It’s too bad to use the unfitted guitar for the adult' and he wanted to make a fitted guitar. My current guitar is made by ‘Selma guitar’ and it’s much easier to play since it fits me well and its sound is so good.
[Q] Is there any other instrument which you are interested in except guitar?
[A] Drum! Recently, I’m thinking that I want to learn drum and there is no special reason. It looks exciting! For some reason, I feel that I can blow away the stress when playing drum.
[Q] As I know, you are learning composition recently. Do you take a lesson?
[A] No. I haven’t learnt composition systematically. My level is just to make tunes when the melody hits me. It’s the field that I really want to learn.
[Q] Please introduce me one of your compositions that you like most.
[A] I personally like ‘Night Flight’ which I composed recently I uploaded the video that I played this tune to my blog and got positive reactions.
[Q] I also saw the video and I got unique feeling since it may be your own composition. What are this tune inspired by?
[A] When reading the book ‘Don't eat the marshmallow--yet!’, suddenly I got a melody and played right then. It was extempore composed tune, but there is no relationship with the book. (Smile)
A boy jumps over Korea.
“I just witnessed your performance of ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE! Thank you for a beautiful performance. John Lennon would have been happy that you performed his song so well.”
This is the comment by Mrs. Yoko Ono Lennon who is the avant-garde artist and the widow of the late John Lennon. Thomas Leeb who is one of the world famous guitarists already saw the video that Sungha played his song and showed his interest by contacting him by e-mail and Martin Taylor who is the only jazz guitarist that was appointed a MBE (Member of British Empire) also sent a message “Wonderful guitarist” to him. Now, he is dreaming to become the world famous guitarist over Korea.
[Q] Recently Mrs. Yoko Ono who is the widow of the late John Lennon left a message on your video and it became a hot issue. I wonder how you felt then.
[A] Frankly, I didn’t know that comment. When one of fans found it and let me know, I didn’t know frankly who Mrs. Yoko Ono is. But after knowing that she was a wife of the member of the Beatles, I felt really great. I am also surprised that she is 75 years old and that she is doing Internet.
[Q] It’s a wonder that the only 12 years old boy knows the Beatles. Who is your favorite musician or role model if you have?
[A] There are so many musicians. Thomas Leeb in Austria, Ulli Boegershausen in Germany, Kotaro Oshio in Japan and Byung-Woo Lee in Korea. I want to look after them.
[Q] Thomas Leeb is with you in the profile picture of your blog. You seem closely related with him.
[A] He is the unforgettable musician to me. He is the world famous guitarist and his technique of body-tapping and percussion is world’s top level. By the way, he saw my video on YouTube and contacted me by e-mail. I was unbelievably surprised and felt great. When he visited Korea in 2006, I met him and was really impressed. When I was rehearsing, he saw my play right beside me and corrected me if I was wrong. It was so precious time for me and I felt so sorry that I could not introduce myself due to my poor English. When I become a good guitarist, I really want to have the joint concert with him.
[Q] Ah, I saw the picture of the present from Ulli Boegershausen in your blog.
[A] He is the man like a mentor to me. I believe that I will have much more time to be with him if I continue the guitar. He promised to be beside me forever. I made a foreign website since he recommended positively. He sent the post cards, the letter and two music books with his own autograph last year and I was really pleased and happy.
[Q] When I come to think of it, there are many musicians who contacted you through YouTube.
[A] In addition to them, Laurence Juber, Martin Taylor, Walter Lupi and other great players who are much older than me also gave me an e-mail. Whenever it happened, I’m so glad and wondered.
[Q] For what reason do you look after Kotaro Oshio and Byung-Woo Lee?
[A] Kotaro Oshio is the right guitarist who made me addict to fingerstyle music. His ‘Twilight’ is the song that I played for the first time. He is the influencing and favorite musician that much. During early concerts, I have played almost all Kotaro songs. Since Byung-Woo Lee is the only fingerstyle guitarist, I like and want to look after him without a special reason. I have played his song “Bird” and it was not easy. But, I really like his own lyrical feeling.
[Q] Were you on the stage with Trace Bundy recently?
[A] Yes, many people showed the interest and it was also the impressive concert to me. He is really kind and modest man when I met him. I liked his dynamic playing style. After the concert, he promised me to keep in contact and to help me when necessary.
[Q] ‘Canon’ played that day attracted many people.
[A] Right. It was also really funny and impressive play to me. Actually, ‘Canon’ was not expected. But he felt nice when we played it a couple of time during rehearsal. Even though I could not practice enough, we played in good harmony even on the stage.
[Q] Is there a musician whom you want to play with even though there is no chance yet?
[A] Mmm. Andy McKee and Don Ross. In my opinion, the style of these two is much groovier than other guitarists. They are really rhythmical. If I am on the stage with them, I will be really excited and funny. I like that kind of play.
[Q] As we talked more and more, I want to hear and see your play with my own ears and eyes. Do you have a concert plan in Seoul?
[A] In November, there will be a concert in front of big bookstore in Seoul subway station ‘Jonggak’. I want to see many people then.
[Q] You said that you want to be acknowledged as a guitarist not as a prodigy. What kind of guitarist do you want to be?
[A] I am most happy to hear that one got relaxed or thought the forgotten dream though my play. I want to be the guitarist to bring those kinds of joy, happiness and comfort to the people though my play. Even though I’m still young, please wait for and expect me to become such a guitaritst.
By Ji-hyun Kwon