15-year-old Singaporean in top three at global young guitarist competition

Alex Hooi said he was surprised to make it to the top three, especially with just three-and-a-half years of experience.
Alex Hooi said he was surprised to make it to the top three, especially with just three-and-a-half years of experience.PHOTOS: MUSICRADAR

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean youth has clinched a top three position in a competition for amateur young guitarists around the world.

Alex Hooi, 15, emerged as runner-up in the Young Guitarist of the Year 2018 held at the UK Guitar Show sponsored by guitar manufacturer PRS Guitars.

Hooi told The Straits Times that he was surprised to make it to the top three, especially with just three-and-a-half years of experience.

He had adapted his winning rendition of Liang Zhu, or Butterfly Lovers, from a YouTube channel doing guitar tracks.

"My grandma has had that particular melody as her ringtone ever since she got her phone... the melody reeks of nostalgia for me and I'm glad that I've incorporated it into the track," he said.

Hooi said as the only Asian in the top three, he felt it was an appropriate nod to his Chinese roots.

Music website MusicRadar said that "hundreds" of application videos were sent in before a handful of standout performances were sent to the judges, musicians Rob Chapman, Matt Tuck, and Chris Buck.

The top guitarist at the Sept 29 London event was 13-year-old Hunter Hallberg, and Abigail Zacho, 14, was the other runner-up. Both are Americans.

Hooi, who also has grade six qualifications in both violin and piano from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music assessments, said that the trio are planning to collaborate on a joint piece in the near future.

The youth, who is preparing for the upcoming 'O' level examinations, has already been given early admission to Singapore Polytechnic for his musical talents.

He is grateful to his parents and the local music scene for the support given.

"My dad would bring me out to play at any opportunity and exposed me to the local scene... The friendly community embraced me and I was never once made to feel as though I was not good enough," he said, citing local establishments like Crazy Elephant, Blu Jaz and Barber Shop by Timbre.

ST reported on Friday (Oct 19) that Blu Jaz Cafe had its license cancelled after police said it had "repeatedly flouted licensing conditions" under the Public Entertainment Act.

Hooi said he was disheartened to hear that Blu Jaz is getting its entertainment license revoked.

"I hate to be political, but I feel like I have to speak up about this issue... In my opinion, revoking their entertainment license would deprive Singapore of one of the only few venues left that plays live music every day and undoubtedly stunt the growth of aspiring musicians here in Singapore," he said.

"I wouldn't be where I am as a musician now if it weren't for these venues," he said.