Yale Students Find the Perfect Harmony

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By Allyson Dickman > Senior > Journalism > University of Maryland

Sam Tsui is everywhere you look—at least in his YouTube videos, which have reached more than 4 million viewers. Singing an original Michael Jackson medley a cappella, Tsui appears not once or twice, but simultaneously as six different performers, who YouTube viewers often mistake for sextuplets.

Reality—Tsui and friend Kurt Schneider have cloned Tsui harmonizing with himself. “The first one we did, we started to get a couple thousand hits,” said Tsui, a junior Classical Greek major at Yale. “We were sort of shocked, which is now funny to look back on, now that we have however many million…”

The duo began while living on the same street in Blue Bell, Pa. Tsui was never trained, but has been singing since he can remember. Schneider taught himself piano to accompany his and others singing. They combined forces in high school, using “ghetto recording” equipment, Tsui said.

After Tsui joined Schneider, a senior math major, at Yale they continued their singer/producer relationship. When a girl bailed on a duet they planned to film for YouTube, Schneider suggested Sam play both parts. “It’s pretty much just special effects,” Schneider explained. “You know, computer magic.”

Magic turned into fame. Their videos have led to multiple TV appearances, including ABC World News.  “I always thought we had what we needed to make it,” said Schneider. “But I definitely didn’t expect everything to happen so quickly.”

Their fame, of course, is greatest on campus, where the Yale Herald even jokingly auctioned Tsui’s pillow off to fans. The guys link their popularity to their originality. “We don’t want to just take a song and redo it,” Tsui said. “We always want to pick something that we think we can add our own twist to.”

Tsui and Schneider plan to spend the summer on campus, filming a full-length feature film, College Musical, adapted from the web series Schneider co-created. The series includes humorous songs, like “I Want to Bone My T.A.,” which Tsui sings (with a straight face) in the first of four episodes.

“It was such a new experience, and now I sort of look back at it like ‘oh gosh, I could do that so much better now,’” Tsui said. “That’s the scary part about YouTube. Once you put it out there, it’s done and you can’t change it.”

The series has become popular at Yale, and Schneider hopes for a bigger-than-YouTube release of the movie he’s directing.

Notoriety is getting tricky for the uber-talented singer/actor and his producer, who runs a small recording studio on campus, but they’re having fun. “That’s really important to me, that I don’t sort of overwhelm my college experience and lose the fun of it,” Tsui said. 

Their success is also a head start to a career in performing. Tsui’s cover songs will be released on iTunes in early February, and he promises an original album will follow. “It’s bringing me so much happiness already,” he said, “and I can’t imagine where it’s going to take me.”

College Magazine Staff

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