Piano prodigy Case wows at Kent Concert Hall

<strong>LOGAN—</strong> A 15-year-old prodigy amazed audience members Thursday night at the Kent Concert Hall playing songs he’d heard once or twice before, and immediately composing arrangements on the piano and organ.

The musician, Kuha’o Makana Case, is a blind boy from Hawaii participating in the USU Youth Conservatory Summer Piano Clinic. His story went global when a YouTube video of him listening to a dubstep song twice and then playing it on the piano in April went viral. The video now has over 600,000 views.

“I don’t know what’s going through his head, if he can see the notes in his head, but every time he plays a song it’s a different rendition,” friend Andy Thunell said. Thunell introduced him to the audience Thursday night.

In front of several hundred people, Case was led on stage and sat at an organ, where he played “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” his body rocking with the beat and a smile on his face. Case prefers the organ and would play only that if he could, Thunell said, but he wanted Case to show his talents on the piano throughout the night as well.

Thunell, of River Heights, said his family became friends and advocates of Case when he visited Utah in April as part of a trip to play the organs at the LDS Conference Center and Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Thunell, who was visiting his parents’ house when Case came to Logan, said it did not take long before he recognized the boy’s gift.

“I took piano for seven or eight years,” Thunell said. “It’s not hard to realize what kind of gift he has.”

Thunell decided to set up a video camera and have Case listen to a dubstep song twice, “Cracks (Flux Pavillion Remix)” by Freestylers, and then play it on the piano. Once the video went viral, Thunell said he had people calling him asking how they could help Case.

Although he has an obvious talent, the Hawaiian native does not own a piano and has to practice on his grandmother’s, Thunell said. A fundraiser was set up at the end of June on KickStarter.com to raise money to buy Case a piano and fund his first CD. The goal is $30,000, and if they fail to raise at least that much, the money will be refunded to donors. The fundraiser is set to end July 21 at 12:01 a.m.

“His dream is to touch other people’s lives with his music,” Thunell said. “He wants to share that with other people, and just play for everyone and everybody who will listen. And the best way to do that is on a CD.”

Case’s dream is also to be the organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir someday, Thunell said. Richard Elliot, principal organist for the choir, is his hero, and he met him on his April trip in Salt Lake City. Case is also receiving lessons from Elliot on this trip as he travels around Utah, according to a post by Monica Thunell on Dunkley Piano Movers’ website.

Case shares his story in firesides titled” Dare to Dream”, Thunell said. In between playing arrangements of songs, Case talks about what may seem like obstacles to other people, but to him are not.

“He (Case) realizes that everybody is, you know, blessed with certain gifts,” Thunell said. “Instead of thinking something’s been taken away from him, that a gift has been given to him to compensate.”

Case played a wide variety of songs, from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” to Rachmaninoff’s “Somewhere in Time.” Thunell told the audience he wanted to show Case’s ability in full, so during the intermission they played Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe,” which he said Case never heard until then. Case smiled and bounced to the chorus as the song played twice, and once it was over, he immediately turned around on the piano bench and started playing what was unmistakably the song he just heard.

Case’s energy is unmistakable when he plays the piano or organ, Thunell said.

“He has so much energy and it doesn’t ever wear off,” he said. “You’ll never find him, you know, unhappy. He’s always so upbeat and positive.”

Audiences can watch Case perform again before he leaves Utah, July 21 at the Ogden Amphitheater, where he is scheduled to play an opening set for “America’s Got Talent” season six winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.

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