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Small Wonders
These artistic kids have talent beyond their years

Last week, 11-year-old Matt Savage gave a concert in Manchester, New Hampshire, with his jazz band. But instead of playing with kids his own age, Matt performed with two adults. The trio played music Matt wrote himself. "It's weird to have your boss be an 11-year-old," says John Funkhouser, 36, the bass player in the Matt Savage Trio. "But he's unbelievably gifted. It's fun playing with someone who is mature and a kid at the same time."

When he was 6, Matt taught himself to read music. Soon after that, he started writing his own songs, like "Shufflin' the Cards" and other jazzy tunes. Matt has already recorded five CDs. "A piano is like 88 instruments combined in one," he says. "Each key has its own sound."

Like Matt, graphic artist Junichi Ono, 13, showed talent at an early age. He had his first art exhibit when he was 8 and has already published several art books. But his mom, Naomi Ono, says he is still a normal kid. "Junichi goes to school, does his homework and plays with friends," says Ono, "but he produces at least 300 drawings a year."

Alexandra Nechita, 18, started painting when she was just 2 years old. When she was 9, a famous art gallery in California devoted an entire show to her work. Now, collectors all over the United States want to buy her paintings. Some cost as much as $50,000.


Sure, Junichi, Matt and Alexandra have natural talent. But they work very hard to be good at what they do. Child psychologist Robert Butterworth says that children aren't born as all-star artists or musicians. "Natural talent is just a starting point," he says. "To do really well at something creative, kids need to have helpful parents and to try things out over and over."

Butterworth believes that talented children are often good at many things. He says parents sometimes put too much pressure on their kids to concentrate on one activity. "It's important for kids to try all sorts of activities," he says, "and not just what they're good at."

But even kids who don't seem to have a special talent might end up achieving creative success later on. Walt Disney, for example, was once told he doodled too much. Rocker Bruce Springsteen's dad told him to quit playing guitar and become a lawyer. Both went on to prove their great imagination and talent.


When she was 4, Mayuko Kamio started violin lessons. Last week, 13 years later, Mayuko made her New York City debut, in a solo concert. She played a violin made in 1727 and worth more than $1 million.

Aside from talent and fame, these young stars share something else in common: devoted families. Mayuko travels with her mother when she performs with orchestras in Japan, Russia and the Czech Republic.

Matt's mom helps him decide where to perform and won't let him play in smoky bars or late at night. "My goal is to keep him a kid," says Diane Savage. Matt has plenty of free time and helps with chores: "Every once in a while, Matt has a concert, and he's a star for the night. But when he comes home, he's just a regular member of the family."

Read more about prodigies

--By Jeremy Caplan October 10, 2003 Vol. 9 No. 5
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