By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
If you were to watch the video of Michael Atalig on YouTube playing a ukulele cover of George Harrison’s My Guitar Gently Weeps, you would be forgiven for thinking he was a high schooler.
The video was recorded a couple of weeks ago inside the choir room at McNary High School and, while Michael stands just taller than the piano in the room, it’s nearly impossible to conceive of someone younger than 14 being able to maneuver his fingers along the fret and perform the precise picking the song requires.
The problem is you would be wrong.
Michael, a fifth grader at Keizer Elementary School and son of Jason and Joan Atalig, is all of 10 years old and budding virtuoso on the ukulele.
“It’s a very simple instrument and, when you think of it, you don’t think of it as a hard instrument to play,” Michael said.
He started picking at the ukulele at age seven, but didn’t begin practicing in earnest until his family moved from their home on the island of Saipan northeast of Guam last year. Jason, who plays guitar, introduced his son to the ukulele because it was easier to lug to beach barbecues in Saipan. Still, he marvels at his son’s ability.
“I can’t even pick as well as he can,” Jason said.
When Michael found videos of Jake Shimabukuro on YouTube playing the same cover of My Guitar Gently Weeps, he doubled his practice time.
“Last year, my dad showed me Jake and I was completely blown away,” Michael said.
He’s learned to play by watching videos online and working with tablature, musical notation that focuses on fingering rather than pitches. He started working on covers of Shimabukuro’s covers as well as original pieces and rapidly progressed. His current favorites are Let’s Dance and Blue Roses Falling. Since discovering Shimabukuro, Michael has added Aldrine Guerrero to his list of influences.
Now when he plays, Michael no longer thinks about chords.
“I’m just hearing the music. Jake doesn’t really use chords, but he mixes them with other keys,” Michael said.
He spends a much time as he can studying a music book supplied by his father.
When he’s not playing the ukulele, Michael spends time with his other interests, drawing and solving Rubik’s Cubes.
“I solved one in 58 seconds, but that’s my fastest time,” he said.
The world record in solving the standard-sized cube is 5.66 seconds. However, after watching him play the ukulele, it’s easy to imagine Michael might just have the hands and mental toughness to beat that, too.
But, give him time, he’s only 10.