An Interview with Ethan Bortnick for the Post-Gazette


I recently interviewed piano superstar Ethan Bortnick, and the interview appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “My Generation” column today — here it is:

CONCERT PREVIEW:  GIFTED PIANIST ETHAN BORTNICK, 11, BRINGS NATIONAL TOUR HERE

By Lily Tolchin

Ethan Bortnick will be in Pittsburgh
on Friday, July 27th to kick off his 22-city national “It’s All About Music”
tour at the Carnegie Library Music Hall
of Homestead.  Ethan’s special guests, the Kidz Bop Kids,
will open the show.  Tickets are
available through the Music Hall box office at (412) 368-5225 and by
visiting  www.librarymusichall.com.

Lily Tolchin, 10, a soon-to-be sixth-grader at St.
Bede School in Point Breeze, had the chance to interview Ethan recently.  Lily also has her own blog: www.kidsbeststuff.com .

Q.  You play piano
really well – when did you start playing, and when did you know that you were
gifted?

A.  When I was three,
I was really into music, and I saw a lot of kids at my school taking piano
lessons.  And I was really curious, so I
asked my parents for piano lessons, and they said ‘Are you kidding, you’re
still in diapers!’  So I had a little toy
piano, and I started playing everything I heard on that toy keyboard, and
finally my parents decided I was ready and signed me up for piano lessons.

Q.  What’s the first
song you remember playing really well?

A.  Well, I used to
listen to Baby Einstein CD’s, and I really liked this song by Mozart called
“Alla Turca” so I started playing it on my toy piano when I was three.  But it wasn’t the best, partly because my toy
piano was really small – it only had eight keys – but later on I learned it for
real on a regular piano keyboard.

Q.  What did your
parents think when they found out you could play so well?

A.  What did they
think?  They flipped out – that’s what
they told me.  Because they didn’t
believe me, they didn’t believe that I was playing Mozart.  They thought that I had turned on the Baby
Einstein CD, but when they came in the room they saw that I was playing the
Mozart song on my toy piano.  I think
they took a video tape of me playing that day – I was too young to remember.

Q.  I play piano too –
but not like you – how long does it take you to learn a new song?

A.  It depends.   If I’m learning a song by reading sheet
music, it could take me about a week or two to learn it and to be able to play
it well.  But if I just listen to a song about
three times or so, then I get it immediately and I can play it pretty well.  So reading the music actually takes me longer
than if I just hear it.

Q.  How many songs do
you have memorized, and how long do you practice every day?

A.  I have hundreds of
songs memorized, but I really don’t keep track of the actual number.  As far as practicing, some days, I’ll
practice for one hour or two hours, and some days I won’t practice at all.  I usually just like to hang out and play the
piano for fun.  It depends on how I feel
that day.  But when I have a concert
date, I usually rehearse for an hour or two.

Q.  Do you have a
piano teacher?

A.  Yeah, I actually
have two piano teachers – I still take lessons from my first piano teacher who
worked with me when I was really little, and I have a second piano teacher who
teaches me different things.

Q.  I understand that
you also write your own music – where do you get your ideas for songs?

A.  Where do my ideas
come from?  Well, first I think of a
story, or I get inspired to write something, and then my hands just take over –
I don’t know how it happens.  And then I start
to think of words to go with the song.  I
sit at the piano and then the hands start working, and then what I’m playing
turns into a song.  It happens pretty
fast.

Q. You recently started singing during your performances –
how is that going?  Do you like singing?

A.  Well, I used to
sing when I was younger, but it was new for me. 
Now I’ve been taking vocal lessons and I’m really starting to love it —
it’s cool!

Q.  What’s it like to
meet celebrities like Oprah and Justin Bieber – and are there any celebrities
that you’d like to meet but haven’t met yet?

A.  All of the
celebrities have been amazing.  Justin
Bieber was great – we recorded some music with him.  Oprah was really, really nice, and the Black
Eyed Peas were awesome.  Once, Will.I.Am
called my house to invite me to his concert, and my dad was on the phone, and
he thought it was one of his friends playing a trick on him, so he hung
up.  But then he realized that it was
actually Will.I.Am, so he called him back! 
I’ve never met Paul McCartney, but I’d really love the chance to meet
him and to play with him someday.

Q.       Now
that you’re 11 years old, are girls becoming your biggest fans?

A.  Well, you know
what?  I’m a little too young for that –
but I really like all of my fans, they’re great!

Q.  What grade are you
in?  Do you go to a regular school or
have a tutor? 

A.  I’m going into
middle school – sixth grade.  I go to a
regular school – a private school — and I love it.  I really like school.  I especially love math and science – those
are my two favorite subjects. 

Q.  Is it hard to study
when you’re doing concerts?

A.  No, it’s not that
hard because my teachers give me the homework while I’m traveling, and when I’m
going away on a really long trip, my teachers talk to me on Skype on the
computer.  That’s how I get taught when
I’m on the road.

Q.  Do you play any
other instruments?

A.  Besides the
piano?  I tried drums, I tried guitar,
but I’m not as good as I am on the piano.

Q.  Is your family
musical?

A.  No.  I tried teaching my dad how to play “Mary Had
A Little Lamb” and that did not work out so well!

Q.  How much time do
you spend on the road doing concerts each year? 
Is it tiring?

A.  Well it
depends.  Like last year, we did almost
75 shows — headlining shows, and then we also did a bunch of private concerts.
 All I know is that we did a lot of
concerts – and it takes a lot of time — but it’s so much fun!

Q.  How does it feel
to be famous?  Do you get recognized by
other people a lot?

A.  How does it feel
to be famous?  You know, I’m just a
regular kid.  I mean, I play piano, but I
also play video games, I read, swim, play sports, draw – I mean, you know – I’m
a regular kid like anyone else.

Q.  What’s your
favorite sport?

A.  Well, my little
brother is a huge sports fan, so I have to try to play with him nicely, even
though he gets very excited to play sports – he’s still smaller than me.  But I would say that my favorite sports are
probably basketball and baseball – but I have to be careful with my hands,
especially before a concert.

Q.  What do you see
yourself doing when you’re grown up?  Are
you planning to go to college?

A.  Am I planning to
go to college?  Sure, yeah, I mean, it’s
important, you know.  But I’m still
young, so I have to decide that when I’m older.

Q.  What’s your new
CD?

A.  We’ve just released
a new single that came out called “It’s All About Music,” which is also the
name of our tour.  Our tour is kicking
off in Pittsburgh,
and we’re going to 22 cities – it’s going to be a lot of fun.  Kidz Bop Kids is the opening act,
and then I come out, and  I’ll play all
kinds of music — there will be lots of surprises.

Q.  I heard that
you’re friends with Marvin Hamlisch, who lives here in Pittsburgh – is that true?

A.  Yeah, I’ve met
Marvin Hamlisch – he’s a really funny guy, a great guy, and he’s very talented
too.  And I also opened for him at a
concert when he was the headliner.  Maybe
I’ll get to see him when I’m in Pittsburgh
for the concert on July 27 – that would be great – I can’t wait to come to your
town!


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