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I’m guessing that a lot of you have already seen these little North Korean kids, who are about half the size of their guitars, play better than most adults and have these smiles on their faces that are there either because they genuinely love what they are doing or because teacher is backstage with a ruler, ready to whack them if they don’t both perform and look like they’re having fun. And this is the fascination, I think, of these videos – the fact that they’re from North Korea makes us suspect the worst, while the kids are undeniably talented and seem to be having a really good time. We can’t fully enjoy watching these kids, because in the back of our minds we’re wondering if they’re being forced to practice for 14 hours a day, like some Soviet-bloc athlete.

I studied and lived in the Soviet Union back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I have no illusions about communist states. But I always found it fascinating that where they seemed to get everything else wrong, communist countries generally did a great job in education, access to health care (and I stress ‘access,’ given the quality of some of that care) and the arts. I know that that’s a loaded statement, since many think that education in communist countries was/is more along the lines of indoctrination (and some of it was and is), but by and large I found the average Soviet citizen was better read and had a better grasp of science and math than most American college kids (myself included), and that was as true of cab drivers as it was of intellectuals. As someone who still sees the US as a model in many ways it’s always upset me that we don’t guarantee a better education to everyone. (Though I’ll readily agree that our Universities do a better job of encouraging academic curiosity and the open debate of ideas).

And then we come to the arts. Where Western countries (and stage parents) seem great at identifying innate talent and supporting that, a lot of the communist countries seem to have done a better job at encouraging everyone to appreciate or take part in the arts in some way, and the result was a more culturally literate population and a lot of kids, like the ones in the videos, who started at a really early age.

Now if the Soviet Union was a not-fun place to grow up, my sense from everything I’ve read is that it was a paradise compared to Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea, so it’s hard to look at these kids and not imagine the worst (like that they are forced to practice for 14 hours a day to prove the superiority of the communist state). But they’re really young kids, and I can’t help seeing some genuine love of what they’re doing in their faces. And while I’m not going to give the North Koreans any kudos for teaching their kids to play the guitar while starving their people, I do see a tiny rebuke in their performance – maybe our kids could be doing this, too, if we prioritized arts education, or just plain education.

That said, I’d rather have the Matt Hinsleys of the world teach our kids. Matt’s totally not totalitarian. We just need to get more money into programs like his so we can win the next child-guitar Olympics.


p.s. My apologies for the preachiness – For some reason I just couldn’t help it.

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8 Responses to “Tiny Guitarists on YouTube”

  1. Erik says:

    You might be right about the teacher with the ruler in my opinion.
    I don’t smile that constant not even in front of a crowd of 3000+ people

    Despite the rehearsed nature of the performance you still cant help but think there are far worse things that N C children can be forced to do. Music is an incredible escape for the harsh reality of everyday life under a Communist regime. This may perhaps be the reason that there is a natural inclination for the arts in the more oppressed nations of the world. If only more kids in the USA would play guitar for escape instead of use drugs then we might really have something.

  2. Brian says:

    That is a trip, they are so small !

  3. Darrell Styner says:

    Well said Kai! I can hear you walking on egg shells trying not to offend anyone, but I have to agree with the notion that we can love our country and still wonder if there isn’t room for improvement when dictators promote the arts while we starve them in our educational system. We have the resources to do much better. It’s a mystery to me that our society seems unable to come to a consensus that we should do better.

  4. Sam says:

    You gotta love that act. Wouldn’t it be fun to have them on your dashboard?

  5. Kristo says:

    I agree with Kai and would like to draw your attention to the fact that those children are not even given a proper size instruments. Why? To look smaller of course!

  6. Andriy says:

    An extremely biased meaning with lots of suggestions, though “trying not to offend anyone”. I will not comment the original post much but you should not go far to get convinced that you should start early to get far. If you look at biographies of these girls http://www.usa-gymnastics.org/pages/home/nationalteams/women.html some start when they are 3-4. Should we still talk about dictatorships influence, communist states and etc.
    Kristo, I see your point concerning the guitars size, but the answer can be very simple. Children sized guitar won’t sound that well, good ones are difficult to come by, plus these kids seem to manage perfectly. Cheers.

  7. wiki says:

    Ι’m gone to say to my little brother, that he should also visit this blog on regular basis to get updated from latest reports.

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