Pre-Teen Pianist Ethan Bortnick Has The World At His Keys
March 21, 2012 By Cody Calamaio, Staff Writer
Ethan Bortnick can draw inspiration from anywhere when he is composing, even a cell phone ringtone.
As part of his stage show, “Ethan Bortnick and his Musical Time Machine,” Bortnick invites audience members up on stage to play their ringtone, while he composes a song based on it on piano on the spot. It sounds impressive enough on its own, but more so considering that Bortnick is just 11 years old.
“Sometimes, people have a little too much, you know, wine, but usually it’s easy,” Bortnick says about inviting audience members up on stage.
On Friday, the piano prodigy will become the youngest performer ever to headline the Music Center at Strathmore with his show that mixes classical, jazz, pop, and rock ’n’ roll with his original compositions. But Bortnick is used to being the youngest.
The Guinness Book of World Records named him as the youngest solo performer to headline his own tour. He also was the youngest performer to headline the famous Las Vegas Hilton hotel, and the youngest to be a part of the “We Are The World 25 For Haiti” recording in 2010.
Bortnick also got the itch to be a musician young — really young.
“When I was three, I begged my parents for piano lessons and they said I was still in diapers,” he says. “Everything I heard I would mimic on my little keyboard. And finally my parents got me piano lessons.”
A YouTube video of Bortnick playing piano in a mall led to him being on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in 2007, a show he would later return to multiple times, as well as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” where he was eventually named one of “Oprah’s All Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids.”
“It kept building and the rest is history,” he says. “My parents didn’t even tell me who they were. They just said they were some people who were regular people who interview people.”
Since those early television appearances, Bortnick has since headlined more than 100 concerts around the world, while still attending a regular school in his hometown of Hollywood, Fla., a feat he says is “not really” difficult.
Composing is also a passion of Bortnick’s, and he has the opportunity to showcase his talents in the feature film “Anything is Possible,” for which he wrote the score and co-wrote all of the songs. The film, which should open later this year, also features Bortnick as the lead character, Nathan, who has been separated from his mother when she goes missing while assisting with relief efforts after the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan.
Bortnick’s mother, Hannah Bortnick, says it was serendipitous that her son received a toy piano as a gift from their neighbors on his second birthday, because otherwise she would have no reason to expect her son would have any musical ability at all.
“My husband and I are just like the worst singers in the world, we don’t even sing happy birthday because it is so bad. The biggest shock is that our son can sing so well,” she says. “At three years old he was playing Mozart, which is just crazy. It just came out of nowhere.”
Even with all the success, Hannah Bortnick says her son leads a very normal life.
“I have to tell him to put his clothes away and put his shoes away,” she says. “And then all of a sudden we have the other side where we’re at the studio doing ‘We Are The World,’ and we’re standing with Celine [Dion] and Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett.”
She is also thankful for the travel Ethan is able to do at such a young age, and hopes it gives him a good perspective on his life and inspires him to continue his charity work. To date, he has helped raise $30 million for nonprofit organizations through playing charity galas.
“He’s a happy kid, which we’re happy about, and we tell him school is number one so all the doors are open to him,” she says. “He can decide whatever he wants to be.”
Ethan Bortnick says he is happy that his mom and dad have supported him in all of his efforts and hopes to inspire something similar in other families.
“Every time I do the autographs, a lot of kids say after this concert, ‘Now I believe that anything is possible and I can play football or I can draw or I can do this or I can do that,’” he says. “I feel good because now they’re actually going to try.”