In the moment
by Jenny Boone
Andrew Young grew up singing in the shower, playing Guitar Hero, and listening to his dad, a retired U.S. Army colonel who played in military bands and community musician groups, bang loudly on a drum set in the family’s basement. Young enjoyed dancing along to the beat.
Eventually, Young decided to pick up an instrument himself, a bass guitar, but there was one challenge. Young had been born without a left hand or forearm, the result of a congenital amputation.
Young recalled announcing his musical intentions to his mom, while holding a guitar, one of her hair ties, and a plastic spoon. “I’m going to give it a shot,” Young said, using the hair tie to attach the spoon to the nub of his elbow and strumming the guitar with the utensil.
Amy Young never doubted that her son would find a way.
“[Andrew’s] whole life is a demonstration of creativity,” she said. “We learned from a very early age that pretty much Andrew was going to figure out how to do what Andrew wanted to do. He sees things that don’t come easily for him as a puzzle.”
Beginning at around 11 months old, occupational and physical therapists along with Young’s family worked with him to develop one-handed skills. Those instructions didn’t always stick. Young was determined to maneuver life with one hand his own way. “Most of the time it was [Andrew] guiding us,” said Amy Young.
Young played baseball and football, and he ran cross country in high school. He also learned to ride a bicycle, benefitting from modifications, which included transferring all brake controls to the right handlebar and adding a bar on which to rest the shorter arm.
Although Shriners Hospitals for Children provided a prosthetic hand with interchangeable ends for playing guitar or drums, Young, who taught himself to play acoustic electric guitar by watching YouTube, said he prefers a plastic spoon and a thick rubber band for strumming.
At Virginia Tech, Young discovered his place by performing at open mic nights with Virginia Tech Expressions, a student organization that encourages creative expression, and entering competitions sponsored by the Virginia Tech Union, a campus group that promotes social and educational entertainment.
A junior majoring in national security and foreign affairs at Virginia Tech, Young plays several gigs a week as a guitarist and singer at local restaurants and university events. Young’s band, Nine Hand Riot, performed at the university’s Soundfest in April and also won Band Slam, a battle of the bands competition.
Young performs music from a variety of genres. His band’s style is theatrical, influenced by 1990s groups, such as Guns ‘N Roses and Stone Temple Pilots, but his individual music varies. His playlist may include both country and rock music. “It’s really just where my mind wanders,” he said. “I don’t like to confine myself to a specific genre.”
For Young, music is about more than playing notes. It’s about connecting with people and inspiring them. “One thing I try to embody is the idea that limitations can be broken through,” Young said. “I think it’s a conscious decision, and I think everybody’s got it in them.” JB
Noteworthy: Watch Andrew Young perform and learn more about his music.