Besides being an accomplished songwriter and one of the youngest Las Vegas headliners by the age of 11, 13-year-old Ethan Bortnick from Hollywood, Florida, is a pretty normal teenager.
He loves video games, playing sports and, like other teenage guys, I love to eat, I love to eat and I love to eat, he says.
But his first love was the piano – the instrument he began to play before he could reach the foot pedals – and it’s the instrument that has made him one of the youngest performers to tour the world.
I just enjoy going up on stage. I have fun doing it, he says. Doing a live show is so much fun because you never know what’s really going to happen. I think that’s the exciting part for me.
Ethan Bortnick: The Power of Music, which was televised in 2013, is now on tour with special guest Damian McGinty, a Celtic Thunder vocalist and winner of The Glee Project, for which he was awarded a recurring role on Fox’s Glee.
Ethan will perform an array of jazz, classical, rock ’n’ roll and original music when he makes a tour stop Saturday at the Arts United Center.
Ethan, who was writing songs by the age of 5, has traveled to South Africa, Brazil, Canada and Australia. With his 2010 performance at 9 years old, Ethan entered Guinness World Records as the youngest musician to headline a solo concert.
Right now, different musicians, different genres, writers and performers really inspire me in so many ways when it comes performing and playing piano, he says by phone from New York City.
I think that no matter who you are or what kind of music you play, music is music. When you come to the show, you will really see that there is such a wide variety of music, and that’s because I love to listen to all types of music.
The Voices of Unity Youth Choir will accompany Ethan, who says he enjoys the opportunity to share the stage with other young performers.
I think it’s really cool to be working with local kids’ choirs because I get to work with kids my own age that also enjoy music, he says. It’s really fun. For example, I performed with a youth symphony in Phoenix recently, and that was so cool because they were all really talented, but at the same time they were my age, so we got to hang out.
Ethan says he doesn’t come from a very musical lineage.
I tried to teach my dad to play Mary Had A Little Lamb,’ and that didn’t work out so well, he says.
At 3 years old, Ethan was begging to play the piano – at least, that’s what his parents captured on a series of family videos.
My parents really had a lot of videos of me asking them, and they just kept saying no because I was 3, obviously, he says. So I decided to take out a little toy keyboard, and I start tinkling the music I heard on TV and radio. After that, they were saying, we’re giving you piano lessons – it’s really cool to see.
His parents realized their toddler had the ability to hear a song once and play it back note for note. With formal lessons, Ethan quickly began studying the works of composers such as Beethoven and Mozart, as well as artists such as jazz pianist Bill Evans, Little Richard and Elton John.
Ethan’s memory for music has helped him retain hundreds of songs, which he likes to change up for every performance. He says that usually, he will gauge the audience and pick out songs an hour before a performance
Sometimes my dad will actually take pictures of the audience in the lobby, and we’ll see who the audience is – whether it’s a younger crowd or an older crowd and really what kind of music we think they will like, he says. During the show, we can always change that, and my band knows when I’m about to change a song. I think that the whole point is to make sure the audience and I have fun.
In the past few years, Ethan has gone from studying Elton John to performing with him, as well as other artists including Josh Groban, Beyoncé and Reba McEntire.
But Ethan says the highlight of his career so far is the chance to help raise more than $30 million for nonprofits globally by performing with these artists.
It started with my brother. When he was born, he went through three heart surgeries, and when I would visit him in the hospital, I saw how many kids, including him, weren’t having a great day. As I started to get older, I realized how people really need help in this world, he says.
Just now entering his teens, Ethan continues to learn about the world, but he says his goal is to use the power of music to help others.
As I travel more, I am beginning to understand that music is a language that everybody understands. I recently came back from Japan, and almost no one speaks English, but what they do understand is music.
When I started playing the piano, everyone understood what I was feeling, he says.
I’ve seen music change a lot of lives, but not only music. Whether its music or art or cooking or whatever it is, if you enjoy doing it, then you should use it to help other people.