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updated: 1/13/2011 10:59 AM

Child piano prodigy comes to Naperville

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  • Piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick performs Friday at North Central College in Naperville.

    Piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick performs Friday at North Central College in Naperville.
    Courtesy of North Central College


Concertgoers with tickets to "Ethan Bortnick and His Musical Time Machine" Friday at North Central College in Naperville might want to hang on to their seats and bring along the smelling salts.

At one point in the concert, the 10-year-old piano prodigy asks a couple audience members to play the ring tones of their cell phones and he composes a piece that uses the tones on the spot, said Ethan's father, Gene Bortnick, in a telephone interview from the family's home in Florida.

"We had a lady faint in Ohio," Bortnick said. "People just freak out."

Ethan also will take questions from the audience, play songs from his recent PBS special "Ethan Bortnick and His Musical Time Machine," and present a slide show of himself meeting and performing with other singers, Bortnick said.

Since making his 2007 television debut on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Ethan has rubbed elbows with celebrities that include Barbra Streisand, Justin Bieber, Elton John and Patti LaBelle. He has appeared on numerous national television shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Good Morning America," "The Martha Stewart Show" and "Yo Gabba Gabba."

Tickets to Ethan's concert, priced at $45 and $35, have been selling well, said Brian Lynch, fine arts director at North Central College.

"I cannot believe someone that young is that good. He's amazing," Lynch said.

Ethan started playing the keyboard at age 3 and began composing two years later. His unique ability to play any song by ear has allowed him to memorize 300 to 400 pieces, Bortnick said. His repertoire ranges from Bach and Mozart to disco, pop and rock.

Bortnick said Ethan's Naperville concert is the first stop in a 20-city tour that will take him back to his hometown of Hollywood, Fla., on March 5. Ethan is the youngest headline performer to have his own tour in the United States, according to the company organizing his son's tour, he said.

Ticket holders will enjoy a full-length concert with an intermission, Bortnick said.

"It's between 90 minutes and two hours," he said.

While on tour, the fourth-grader in a private school in Florida keeps up with his classes by Skype and gets his homework by e-mail. His favorite subject is math, Bortnick said.

Ethan typically spends only 30 minutes a day in formal piano practice, although he arrives at the auditorium two hours in advance on concert days, Bortnick said.

He described his son as a typical kid who enjoys video games and soccer, but he knew just what he wanted to do when he celebrated his 10th birthday on Dec. 24.

"He chose to celebrate his 10th birthday at his favorite place, his grandparents' house," Bortnick said.

Ethan has used his fame for good causes and been dubbed "The Youngest Philanthropist in the World." Bortnick said a song titled "It's a Miracle" that his son composed for Children's Miracle Network brought tears to the eyes of those who heard it.

Other charities Ethan has helped raise millions for have included the American Heart Association, Miami's Children Hospital Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club.

Bortnick said young people who attend Ethan's concerts often come up afterward and say Ethan has inspired them to pursue an interest of their own they didn't think they could do. Parents who don't bring their kids say they wish they had, he said.