Olentangy Valley News

Academy student's makeshift flute wows judges

Village Academy senior takes PVC-pipe flute to state Science Olympiad event

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Even as an accomplished musician, Village Academy senior Soon Ho Kwon is a scientist at heart.

He loves performing as part of his school's jazz orchestra, but after graduation, he hopes to study biology or medicine at college.

So when the 18-year-old Powell resident learned the national Science Olympiad competition has a music category, he knew it was a perfect fit.

The contest category challenges students to build an instrument from any materials they can get their hands on, then subject it to rigorous testing for quality and functionality.

It's part of the Science Olympiad, a national science, technology and engineering contest with a variety of categories.

For the music category, Kwon built a danso flute, a Korean instrument used in traditional folk music and typically carved from bamboo.

Kwon didn't have any bamboo -- but he did have plenty of PVC pipe.

He created a working prototype from the pipe, though it took a process of trial and error.

"It was very hard to make," he said. "The length of this instrument will affect the sound, and the size and placement of the holes affects the sound. It needed a lot of adjustments."

Once perfected, the unique instrument netted Kwon first place in the regional Science Olympiad contest in February. He moved on to the state competition this month at Ohio State University, where he just missed advancing with a fourth-place finish.

Kwon chose the danso flute because it was familiar. Growing up in South Korea, he learned to play the instrument in elementary school.

Unlike other flutes, the danso flute is played in a vertical orientation.

Because it has just five holes -- compared with the eight holes of other flutes -- it's an especially challenging instrument to play.

"The notes are completely different. You can't play it like a normal flute," he said.

Nonetheless, Kwon received high marks from Science Olympiad judges, who asked him to play two musical pieces and used precise instruments to check the tone and sound quality of the homemade flute.

He also performed at Village Academy's Jazz Night Out, a special dinner event held each year at the school to showcase student musicians.

Tim McDonley, who teaches physics at Village Academy, first introduced Kwon to the Science Olympiad contest.

He said he was glad to see Kwon's project become such a success.

"The instrument he designed ended up being very efficient, and it produces a nice, loud sound with good range," he said.

"Soon is a very talented musician," he added.

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