12-year-old pianist plays way into college classes


    With 13 1/2 semester hours and 3 1/2 hours of piano practice every day, Sam Hong has more to do than most 12-year-olds.”Some people thought it would be ridiculous for me to come to college, but I’m happy,” Hong said. “I love it.”

    Although Hong has adjusted to college life, TCU made some changes to help him adapt better, said Susan Adams, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of campus life.

    Hong, a music and math major, is not required to have a dining plan or live on campus like most freshman, because TCU couldn’t accommodate someone of his age in the dormitories, Adams said.

    Along with living on campus, Hong’s admissions process was changed because he was an 11-year-old attending middle school when he applied, Adams said.

    The university is not recruiting children, Adams said, but an exception was made for Hong because of his high test scores and musical talent.

    “I knew there would be some specialized talent and skill indicating the rationale for admitting a 12-year-old student,” Adams said. “Sam is here because of the actual networking in the prestigious, well-respected music department.”

    John Owings, Herndon professor of music and chair of the piano division, was Hong’s first piano teacher when his family moved to Fort Worth in 2003, Owings said.

    Owings said he helped Hong find a new piano teacher after his family moved to California in December 2004.

    After the piano teacher in California tried to change the way Hong played, Owings said Hong’s family decided he should move back to Fort Worth in November 2005 to live with the Owings family.

    His mother, father and 14-year-old brother stayed in California where his father pursues a doctorate in Christian Education and is a part-time pastor, Hong said.

    While attending middle school in Fort Worth, Hong was bothered by the lack of stimulation, Owings said.

    “The process of Sam being admitted into TCU started with a phone call to the dean of admissions about taking one course because middle school wasn’t challenging him enough,” Owings said.

    After looking over his high standardized test scores, the Admissions Staff met with Hong and suggested he become a full-time student, Owings said.

    Hong was not planning on skipping both middle and high school, he said, and was shocked when he heard the news.

    Hong has made friends with other TCU students and said they have all been accepting.

    “Everyone on campus has been so friendly and nice,” Hong said.

    Owings’ wife, Cordelia, said Hong is making excellent grades in each of his classes. He has made As on his first art history and statistics tests and continues to excel in piano, she said.

    Hong also volunteers to play for local retirement homes, and at the end of the month, he will participate in the Musical Awakenings presentations through the Van Cliburn Foundation, Cordelia Owings said.

    Musical Awakenings is an educational outreach program for third, fourth and fifth-grade students with concerts and activities by accomplished pianists, according to the Van Cliburn Foundation Web site.

    Because Hong is so close in age with the children he is playing for, Cordelia Owings said, he serves as a role model to all of them.