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Tips from a Piano Prodigy's Papa

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Piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, 7, has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," opened for Nelly Furtado in concert and performed with Gloria Gaynor. Ethan's dad, Gene Bortnick, tells us about raising a child with extraordinary talent.

Ethan Bortnick

momlogic: How did you figure out Ethan had this talent at such a young age?
Gene:
When Ethan was three (almost four), he saw kids in his school (older kids) playing piano. He kept telling us that he wanted to get piano lessons, but we never "really" listened to him. One day we saw that he was mimicking what he heard on the TV. He was playing Mozart pieces from the "Baby Einstein's" videos. He had a small keyboard and was repeating the music. We did not realize it until he called us over and we were in shock! We then arranged for piano lessons when he was four years old and it took off from there.

momlogic: How much do you push Ethan to pursue his talent, or does Ethan want to play all the time?
Gene:
I know it is very hard to believe, but we do not push him at all! We realized very early that when we asked him to practice or play music we wanted, he did not want to do it. When we left him alone and let him do it when he wanted, things took off so quickly.

We also realized that when he really wants to do something, he shines! When he doesn't, we stop it immediately; for example he fell in love performing in front of thousands of people in his 60- minute show, but did not like piano competitions. He said he did not like competitions, because he always wins 1st place and he is taking away the prizes from other kids who work hard; so we canceled all of his competitions. He also does not like seeing other parents push the kids at the competitions, he thinks it is all about fun and not something that is a chore!

On the other hand, he has performed for 20,000 people, multiple times, and this he loves! He also loves being on television; especially his three appearances on "Leno" and also his appearances on "Oprah" and other shows. So we let him do what he wants. If his likes/dislikes change, we will change with him.

momlogic: What goals do you have for Ethan, and would you be upset if he stopped wanting to play?
Gene:
We would not be disappointed at all! He is such a special person that whatever he does we will be proud. For example, he now is asking for drum lessons! Why not? Whatever he wants to do (as long as it's safe), our responsibility is to support it and encourage it. For example, it is his goal to be a zookeeper when he grows up, so we take him to all the zoos when we travel and he gets to speak with zookeepers and other animal enthusiasts.

momlogic: What do you suggest a parent do if he/she notices his child is gifted at something like Ethan?
Gene:
Encourage it, listen to them, get an instructor that will make it fun and not a chore, and keep making sure that they are enjoying it. The instructor that he/she has is one of the most important parts of the process. The instructor needs to be competent not only in the skill she/he is teaching but also in how to keep it fun!

Ethan says about Gene, "He just does what I want him to do. He keeps asking me things like "are you having fun?", "you sure you want to do this?" He is also my "Papanger" (Papa and Manager). He is so cool!"

Watch Ethan perform Mozart on the October 11, 2008 episode of Disney Channel's "Little Einsteins." Check out this clip from his upcoming TV appearance.


next: Live Like a Veep
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