When you speak to Ethan Bortnick you can’t help but feel as though you were Santa or the Tooth Fairy.
The 11-year-old sounds nothing like what a superstar presumably should. He is as normal as any young boy his age, but if you know his story, there is nothing ordinary about the youngster.
The boy is a piano maestro who has travelled around the world, appeared on Jay Leno’s show three times, been on Oprah’s couch and on Martha Stewart’s too.
Although he has worked with big names like Beyoncé and Smokie Robinson, the young genius remains what he truly is, a little boy.
After his successful trip to South Africa last year, it is no surprise that Bortnick finds his way back next month.
“It was really cool to be in South Africa last year, the audience was amazing,” he says cheerfully. I had interrupted his video gaming time, but he did not seem to mind.
“I am preparing new songs for my performance there. I am currently working on a song called Flight Of The Bumblebee which is a hard one because my fingers are small and so I can’t reach the other keys,” he said.
For someone who can play just about any sound under the sun, this so-called difficulty is just a case of self-scrutiny, a trait that is common among geniuses.
Those who attended his shows last year can tell you that Bortnick shocked revellers when he asked some members of the audience to come to the stage with their cellphone ring tones and have him play them back without prior rehearsal.
This ability is something that his parents discovered when he was only two years old.
“A neighbour bought Ethan a present that consisted of a tiny keyboard that came with a drum set,” said his father, Gene.
Soon the parents would realise that there was something special about their child and his new toy.
“Every time he heard some-thing on TV he would mimic it. We then started putting on other music and he would take some-thing like 20 minutes and then play back the tune note for note. It was incredible.
“When he was five we went to Andrea Bocelli’s show and Ethan was sleeping the whole time during the concert but the next day he hummed one of the songs that Bocelli had performed the night before. We asked where he had heard the song and he said he didn’t know,” said the proud father.
Since then the young pianist has been going around the world to show off his skills and wow his audiences with an ability that some seasoned musicians can’t match. He was recently crowned the youngest ever person to herald a solo sold-out show, an honour that was previously held by Michael Jackson.
Though South Africa will be guaranteed of loads of fun, Bortnick’s return to the country will also be for charity reasons.
According to Rabbi Masinter of Miracle Drive, the organisation that is bringing the child prodigy back to the country, a child’s natural talent, when developed, can completely transform the said child’s life and in turn the child’s success will inspire his or her peers.
“Miracle Drive is hoping to use Ethan’s story to inspire young South Africans to discover and nurture their talents early. Part of his scheduled performances will be for underprivileged children. We will be giving away children’s motivational books at entrances.”
The star’s father agreed that the idea of helping the less fortunate is very close to Ethan’s heart.
“Ethan’s younger brother Nathan was born with a major heart defect. He has already had three surgeries and so now he is missing half of his heart,” said Gene.
“Ethan wanted to help and went to the hospital and played to raise money for his brother. He did so well that even after that it became a passion for him to raise money for less fortunate kids by using his talents,” he added.
Miracle Drive’s division Grow Your Life aims to instil in underprivileged children a sense of responsibility and in turn teach these children how they can better themselves and the lives of those around despite their different backgrounds.
To achieve this, Grow Your Life books are being distributed in schools to help teach children to reach their potential.
“It is important for me to raise funds for the underprivileged children because a lot of people don’t have money and so they can’t afford things like food and hospital fees. so I do what I can to help,” said Ethan.
Ethan is scheduled to perform at The Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City on June 20 at 8pm and on the following evening at the Playhouse in Umhlanga.
He returns on June 24, at The Lyric Theatre at 2pm. This matinée show will be a sponsored performance where children from all backgrounds are free to attend.
• Tickets for Ethan Bortnick’s shows at The Lyric Theatre can be purchased directly from Computicket.