11/18/2013 | © Photo courtesy of Ethan Bortnick
Since the age of three, he's had the uncanny ability to hear a song once and play it back note for note on the piano; and by age five, he was composing music himself. At nine, he made history as the youngest musician to create and host his own nationally televised concert special on PBS and was the youngest headliner ever in Las Vegas. The next year, he was certified by Guinness World Records as the youngest musician and entertainer to ever headline his own national tour.
He's been featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, and Oprah (where he was named one of Oprah's All Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids). He's starred in the leading role of a feature film (for which he co-wrote all of the songs and scored all of the background music), released his own CD (of original compositions and pop covers), and recently joined some of the music industry's biggest names as the youngest of the all-star lineup that recorded
We Are The World 25 For Haiti.
And at this point, he's just twelve years old.
During his already epic music career, piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick has worked with well-known musicians such Elton John, Celine Dion, Quincy Jones, Justin Beiber, The Black Eyed Peas, and many more, and has used his extraordinary gift of music to help raise over $30 million dollars for nonprofits around the world.
Now Ethan talks with The Flash List about the inspiration for his music, his concert special airing nationwide next month, where he'd like to vacation, and how he finally convinced his parents to let him take piano lessons.
TFL: Explain your process of composing songs from stories you've imagined.
EB: Usually I get inspired by something when I write music. For example, a few days ago I was at a charity that helps kids that are terminally ill; so I wrote a song for them because I got inspired by that. So I researched the charity, and I looked at them, and then I thought. It just goes to my brain and then it goes to my fingers. I don't know, it just comes out. I have no idea how.
TFL: What was the inspiration behind the song
Anything is Possible?
EB: It actually was for a movie I filmed that came out in September called Anything is Possible. It's also about my brother who went through three heart surgeries. When he was born, he was missing half his heart and he had three heart surgeries. So I wrote the song because no matter how hard things are in the world, anything is possible.
TFL: You've said that you believe music can change the world. How have you've seen music change people's hearts?
EB: I think that the power of music is really strong and it can really change the world. As I continue to grow and as I get older, I see that when I perform, it can really affect how people think and how people feel and what people do and how people live their lives. For example, I see people who are tapping their feet or their hands, and they might not even notice it because the music just goes through their bodies and makes them want to dance, cry, laugh, or sing, you know? It's really amazing what it can do to people. I really believe that if we continue to bring music to the world, we can really change it.
TFL: Ethan, when it comes to this gift that you've been given and your ability to play music the way you do, does it just come naturally to you or do you feel challenged sometimes?
EB: When I was a little, like maybe or six or seven, it was really hard for me to reach all the high notes [on the piano]; but then I got a little taller and my hands got a little bigger, so I could finally reach it.
TFL: You've worked with a lot of very talented and famous people. Have any of them ever given you any good advice that you've especially appreciated?
EB: They all give really great advice and they're all very nice; but if I had to choose one person, it would probably be Quincy Jones because he said,
If you can dream it, you can be it. And that's really true because if you have a goal, and you want to do something, and you think you're going to enjoy doing it, then you should really go for it. When I started, my parents didn't even allow me to play piano. I wanted to, and I asked them if I could have piano lessons. But since I was three, they didn't allow me to. Usually the teacher starts at four, so they said, no, no, no. One day, I took out my little toy keyboard that I had and then every song I heard, I would start copying on my little keyboard. Then I called my parents and they said,
Okay, we're getting you piano lessons.
TFL: You've traveled a lot, but if you were in charge of planning a vacation for yourself and your family, is there someplace specific that you'd like to go?
EB: I would actually really like to go to Europe because I've never been there and that's where my parents and my grandparents and my whole family is from. So I would really like to see that. That would be cool.
TFL: What can people expect to hear at your upcoming concert?
EB: We'll have lots of fun. There will actually be a choir there and they'll perform a few songs with me, and then I'll play all kinds of music, and I'll do maybe some audience interactions, and I'll have some surprises, and it'll be a lot of fun.
TFL: What's up next for you?
EB: Right after [the concert] then [The Power of Music Concert Special] comes out; and then around spring to summer, we'll have the Power of Music Tour.
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