SCARBOROUGH – Most football players have butterflies in their stomachs as they stand for the national anthem before a game. At Scarborough High School Friday night, 17-year-old senior Harim Park must have had a whole swarm to deal with since he wasn’t just listening to the anthem, he was playing it on his cello. And to top it off, it was the first time he had ever played the song.

By all accounts, Park did a masterful job with the anthem and the first-year player even got on the field during the Red Storm’s win over Noble.

On Tuesday, Park said that the idea for his performance before the game came from a friend and teammate. “One of my friends (Will Lynch), told me that I should play the national anthem on the cello,” he said.

At first Park was hesitant and thought about sending a recording, but Lynch told him otherwise. “He was like, ‘No dude, you should play it live, it’s going to be totally awesome,'” Park said.

There was just one problem: Park had never played the anthem. So he learned it that day. “I had heard it a lot just from watching sports,” he said. “I got the tune, I just had to get the key and the fingering down.”

He must have learned his lessons well, because he said when he returned to the sidelines for the game, he said his teammates told him his performance was “amazing” and “awesome.”?Of course, the fact that Park did a great job with such little practice should really come as no surprise, as he has been playing since he was 7 years old, and has even had a master class with Yo-Yo Ma, arguably the world’s most famous cellist.

With a smile, Park recalled how he got started with the cello. His sister, Saerim, played the violin and he wanted to play an instrument as well. “I wanted to do the violin and I also wanted to do the bass,” he said.

There was just one problem, as a small 7-year-old, Park was simply too short to play the bass. His mother came up with a solution. “I was really short, and I couldn’t reach the top (of the bass),” he said. “So what my mom did was find a creative way to combine those two (violin and bass) together and came up with the cello.”

Park progressed on the cello, joining the Portland Youth Symphony after his family moved from Iowa City, Ia., to Scarborough in 2004. In February 2009, Park got the chance of a lifetime when Robert Lehmann, the conductor of the Portland Youth Symphony, recommended him and two others to take a master class with Ma, who was in town for a concert at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Park said he worked with Ma, playing him some music that brought applause from the famous cellist, who then said he wanted to work with Park, asking the young musician, “What do you want from me?”

Park said he was in a state of shock over the compliment from Ma and didn’t answer right away. Eventually, he was able to get over his shock and worked with Ma, an experience that still resounds with him to this day.

“He taught me about nervousness and practice,” Park said. “For practice, he told me that if you don’t have a desire to practice and you practice anyway, that’s not a good thing because you won’t make any progress. But he also told me you have to cultivate a desire to practice. It’s helped me a lot. My overall cello performance has improved since then.”

As for football, after playing soccer for three years, Park, who plans on entering a pre-med program after high school, said he was ready to try a new sport. “I really wasn’t very good at (soccer),” he said with a laugh.

He had become a football fan when his family moved from South Korea to Iowa when his father was attending graduate school, but he had never played the sport.

Much like his decision to play the anthem, Park said he was influenced by friends.

“A couple of friends wanted me to do it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I should go for it.’ (The team had) a new coach, a new philosophy, so when I started, everyone was starting anew.”

So he tried out and made the squad, and Park said he has really enjoyed his experience this season.

“I took a shot at it and I don’t regret it at all,” he said. “It’s a really good choice I made and football’s really fun.”

Scarborough senior football player Harim Park plays the national anthem prior to the Red Storm’s game with Noble in Scarborough Friday night. (Photo by Rich Obrey)

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