When you got home from school yesterday, what did you do? Did you do your homework? Did you play outside? Or did you talk to three reporters on the phone about your piano skills? That’s what Ethan Bortnick did one day last week. On Friday in North Bethesda, this fifth-grader will become the youngest person to headline a Strathmore Music Center concert. That means he will be the main show.
“I’m just a regular kid,” Ethan says. “I play video games. I read, sleep, and I play a little piano.”
He may be a regular kid in many ways, but he’s not a regular kid when it comes to the piano. Unlike most young pianists, who perform a recital once or twice a year for family members and teachers, Ethan performs dozens of times a year in front of thousands of people he doesn’t know.
Ethan is called a child prodigy, because he can do something really well at a young age with a lot less effort than it would take anyone else. Ethan is 11 years old, but he can already play about 500 songs, 200 of them from memory. He plays all kinds of music, including classical, jazz and rock-and-roll.
It all started when he was 3 years old. He was still wearing diapers, but he sat down at a toy piano with only 10 keys and started playing a song he had heard, “Rondo Ala Turca” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
He started taking piano lessons after that. Now he has performed about 100 concerts and has appeared on dozens of television shows, including “Good Morning America.” He’s also in Guinness World Records as the world’s youngest solo musician to perform all over the country. (That’s called “touring.”) Recently Ethan composed the music and starred in the movie “Anything Is Possible,” which is to be released later this year.
To prepare for his performance at Strathmore, Ethan will meet with his band, the Musical Time Machine. They will run through about 30 songs and pick about 15 to play during the 90-minute concert. Ethan, though, likes to change things in the middle of concerts, depending on what he thinks the audience is enjoying. “It’s a lot of fun,” he says. One of his favorite surprises is making up a song based on the ring tone of an audience member whose cellphone goes off during the show.
When he’s not performing, Ethan lives in Florida with his parents and younger brother. Most of the time, he goes to school just like his friends. Sometimes when he travels, he connects to his classroom over the Internet to watch and listen to his teacher. He loves school, especially science and math, and he loves the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books. He doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up — a lawyer or a doctor or a pianist, maybe.
“My classmates treat me like any other kid,” he says. “I feel like a regular kid.”