David Youngman, a local guitarist who was named the International Finger Style Guitar Champion in 2015, will hold a solo concert next week at Free Methodist Church, debuting Christmas arrangements from his latest album.
A Michigan native, Youngman moved to Hillsdale 11 years ago with his wife, Liz. In 2014, he was the first to place in three of the biggest finger style competitions in the world in a single year, and in 2015, he won both the International Finger Style Guitar Championship and the Indiana Finger Style Guitar Competition. He will perform Dec. 3, 4, and 5, with tickets costing $10 at the door.
Youngman incorporates both finger styles — plucking the strings instead of strumming — and percussive elements into his music in order to “layer” the sound and give the impression that multiple musicians are playing. Growing up with little exposure to musical variety, Youngman now tries to incorporate many different musical genres into his compositions.
“I had this thought, what if someone was influenced by every genre — jazz, rap, metal, punk rock, classical, bluegrass, just kind of everything. For finger style that works really well — you can go a lot of different directions, and it’s still cohesive because it has a solo sound.”
Youngman began teaching himself to play guitar when he was around 12-years-old and took his first formal lessons at Spring Arbor University, where he majored in trumpet performance, with guitar as a secondary instrument. A year after graduation, he sold his trumpets and took up guitar, partly because he could not practice the trumpet in his apartment, and also because the trumpet would require him to find a band.
“I kind of connected with the guitar more,” Youngman said. “I’m more of a composer, so the instrument almost doesn’t matter; it’s just about expressing something.”
Youngman developed severe tendonitis in his hands and forearms while working on his degree and touring Michigan during the summer with his “jazzgrass” trio.
“I felt called by God to do this, and now what — I can’t play,” Youngman said. “I looked for doctors, physical therapists, teachers, anyone who could help.”
Youngman studied the Alexander Technique, an educational process that aims to help one avoid unnecessary muscular tension by retraining bodily movements.
Then in 2013, Youngman wanted to build his reputation as a guitarist and signed up for the three biggest finger style competitions he could find. After placing several times between 2013 and 2015, Youngman now focuses on teaching guitar at Spring Arbor and composing his own music, and he said he plans to leave competitions behind.
“They really mess with your head,” he said. “It was hard to write music; I felt like it had to be complicated and hard, and it got to the point where I didn’t want to sit down and write anything.”
Youngman said the most rewarding part of making music for him is seeing how it impacts other people.
“When someone says something like a loved one died in their family and my music is their go-to music, that surprises me and gives me purpose,” he said.
Jeanette Plummer has attended Free Methodist for almost 12 years and said she gets to hear Youngman solo at the church a few times a year.
“I always love to hear David play,” Plummer said. “He has a special ability to breathe new life into well known classics…David has the gift of focus. Whatever thing he chooses to put his mind to, he pours into until he has refined his craft hundreds of times over.”
Dave Turner, associate pastor of Free Methodist Church and director of both youth and worship, said that Youngman often helps the praise band come up with creative ways to approach a hymn for Sunday morning. He said they first bonded over music about 10 years ago.
“He does things with guitars that most people can’t even fathom,” Turner said. “You know how painters make up their own colors when painting — that’s how he approaches guitar; he’ll find a way to make it sound the way he wants it to sound.”
Youngman has attended Free Methodist church since he moved to Hillsdale and plays the drums for the Sunday morning praise band. He also teaches his three sons guitar.
“I’m now pushing toward more arts-type venues, just trying to push the artistic level and just being original. I don’t like to get boxed into some mold of being a Christian guitarist. I want there be this attachment of ‘I’m pursuing high art in my music.’”