Samuel Tan is not your average boy.
In school and at home, he may appear to be active and playful just like other children of his age.
But put a violin in his hands, and everything changes. In fact, this nine-year-old showed recently that he can take on violinists more than four times his age.
From May 24 to May 31, Samuel took part in the prestigious 2014 Andrea Postacchini International Violin Competition in Italy, featuring 130 violinists from 39 countries all over the world between the ages of eight and 35.
The whole trip, which costs Samuel's parents around $6,000, saw Samuel walking away with the Postacchini Prize, which is awarded to the best overall violinist in the whole competition.
For winning the Postacchini Prize, Samuel was awarded a handmade violin by luthier Francesco Piasentini, a bow by bow maker Walter Barbiero, and a €1,300 (S$2,750) cash prize.
Samuel's passion for the violin became apparent when he was two years old.
Mr Jason Tan, Samuel's father, said: "We were watching the television and my wife had switched the channel to a classical orchestra performance, and Samuel was immediately captivated by the violins. We were all very surprised that he took to classical music so much."
For Samuel, it "sounded like people singing to me".
Mr Tan and his wife then decided to buy a small violin for Samuel to try out.
Little did they expect that Samuel would then proceed to spend most of the next year watching concert recordings and imitating the actions of violinists with his violin.
Mr Tan, 39, an IT manager, said: "At that time, it wasn't so much music than noise, but we could already see his passion for music."
That was when they decided that Samuel, who was just a few months shy of turning three, should be given proper violin lessons.
Ms Min Lee, Samuel's artistic mentor at Wolfgang Violin Studio, said: "On the outside he looks like a normal, playful boy, but the moment he starts playing the violin, his focus and concentration astounds me."
Samuel then began taking weekly one-hour lessons at Wolfgang Violin Studio, and practising at home for around two to three hours daily.
Six years and more than 12 violins later, Samuel's skill with his 1/2 size violin has earned him international recognition.
But Ms Lee, 31, and Ms Annie Lee, 65, both programme directors of Wolfgang Violin Studio, said Samuel's natural gifts are not enough to put him where he is now.
Ms Annie Lee said: "When teaching him, we had to make sure that he has a solid foundation in terms.
"We also have to not just groom him musically, but also nurture him into a musician with flair as well."
While Samuel, an Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) student, may have won international praise for his skills, Ms Min Lee said there is still much for him to do.
She said: "It is important for Samuel to be exposed to a wider variety of music to expand his repertoire to really nurture his passion for music."
They stress the importance of not pushing him too hard, but letting him have as normal a childhood as possible.
Mr Tan is hoping for Samuel to be as well-rounded as possible.
He said: "We make sure that he has always done his schoolwork before he practises the violin.
"And so far, he has not disappointed us yet, and has managed to score more than 90 marks for all subjects."
And even after winning the Postacchini Prize, life has not really changed for Samuel.
Mr Tan said: "We threw him a party with all his best friends when we came back, that's all. Even the prize money, we're saving it for his future music development instead of spending it now."
On the outside he looks like a normal, playful boy, but the moment he starts playing the violin, his focus and concentration astounds me.
- Ms Min Lee, Samuel's artistic mentor
This article was first published on July 23, 2014.
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