It seems like there are endless stories about children being forced by their children to take music lessons. Less often do you hear about kids wanting to take lessons but being denied.
That was initially the case with 13-year-old prodigy Ethan Bortnick, who asked his parents for lessons when he was just 3 years old. But luckily for him — and for music lovers — his parents reconsidered.
“I asked my parents if I could play piano,” Bortnick recalled. “They actually said no, so I took out a play keyboard I got for my second birthday. I started copying all the music I heard on radio and on TV. I played something for them, and they said, ‘OK, we’ll get you piano lessons!’”
Bortnick has the musical equivalent of a photographic memory; he can hear a song once and play it back note-for-note. His talent was evident to his parents and others right from the start, but for Bortnick, playing piano wasn’t really about that.
“I just instantly loved it,” he said. “After that, I continued playing concerts and doing different things involving music because I was just having fun doing it.”
One of the upcoming concerts he will play is at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Clay Center. It is part of his “The Power of Music” tour, with special guest Damian McGinty (who appeared on season three of “Glee” as Rory Flanagan) as well as the Appalachian Children’s Chorus. The program’s music spans many genres.
“The reason this show has such a wide variety of music is because I love every type of music there is,” Bortnick said. “Classical. Jazz. Rock ‘n’ roll. Pop. As long as it’s music, I’ll listen to it.
“It’s great there’s such a wide variety,” he added. “All ages can watch the show. It’s music that hit the radio maybe 50 years ago, maybe two days ago. It doesn’t matter. If you’re 2 years old, 90 years old, you can enjoy it; it’s a family concert.”
Bortnick is so passionate about music he’s hard-pressed to pick any favorite tunes.
“I really love everything,” he said. “Every song is so unique, it’s hard to pick. It’s like picking your favorite person in the world.”
The same goes for favorite artists. And not only does Bortnick like a lot of other musicians, but he’s performed with plenty of them, too, having shared stages and studios with musical superstars including Elton John, Beyonce, Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, Celine Dion and the Black Eyed Peas.
He loves having met them and is honored to have worked with them, but more than that, he’s thrilled about why he most often joins them: for charity benefits. In 2010, he was the youngest member of We Are The World 25 For Haiti, a star-studded charity single recorded in the wake of the country’s devastating earthquake.
“It was amazing to see so many really incredible musicians come together to use music to help others,” he said of the experience. “That’s really what I’m all about — using music to help other people. For me, that’s one of my goals in life, to continue to do that.”
He’s done quite well so far, helping raise more than $30 million for nonprofits around the world. Some of the charities he has assisted include the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, One By One and the Starkey Hearing Foundation. One that’s especially important to him, though, is the Children’s Miracle Network.
“When my brother was born, he had three heart surgeries,” Bortnick said. “When I visited him in the hospital, one of the charities that helped the hospital and him was the Children’s Miracle Network, so ever since, I really wanted to help them.
“The last tour that we did for my first PBS special, every city we went to, we visited a Children’s Miracle Network hospital and performed for kids who couldn’t go to the concert.”
Bortnick encourages people of all ages to get involved in charitable work, no matter how big or small the project.
“It doesn’t matter how many people you help or how much money you raise. What matters is that you help,” he said. “It’s all about making people happy and making people smile. Really helping someone is like helping the entire world. If every person in the world used their talents to help other people, I think this world would be even better than it is right now.”
Whether your life’s goals are improving the world, making music to inspire and entertain or something else entirely, loving what you do is key, Bortnick said.
“Passion is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how good you are or what other people think. It doesn’t matter about the money. As long as you enjoy what you do, that’s the most important thing. That’s exactly why I go up on stage and play piano and sing and do so many different things.”
Tickets for Sunday’s concert are $49 and are available at www.theclaycenter.org or www.ethantickets.com. Use the checkout code “music” to receive a 10 percent discount. You may also call 304-561-3570 or purchase tickets at the door.
Reach Amy Robinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4881.