Autism Speaks — And Ethan Rocks

Two years ago, “06880” profiled Ethan Walmark. The 6-year-old — on the autism spectrum, as a very high-functioning child — played and sang “Piano Man” in a YouTube video. It went viral (over 1.5 million views), and Ethan was an international star.

A lot has happened since.

Billy Joel called Ethan’s intro “better than mine.” Ethan performed live on the “Today Show.” He was 1 of only 14 people worldwide — and the youngest — to receive a “Genius of Autism” award. (Then he won it again.) The Huffington Post named him 1 of 20 “Child Prodigies.”

He helped Yoko Ono flip the switch to light the Empire State Building blue for World Autism Awareness Day. Ethan looked her in the eye and said, “Imagine a world without autism!”

Meeting Ethan before a concert, John Mayer said, “Hey, I know you! You’re the internet sensation!”

Ethan’s performance of “Eminence Front” brought down the house — at a Who show.

Clearly, Ethan rocks.

He’s got plenty of talent, for sure. And — after his parents enrolled him in Fairfield’s School of Rock — Ethan’s cognition, social abilities and musicality soared.

Now, Ethan — the resident “rock star” of Kings Highway Elementary School –brings his international talents to his home town.

This Saturday (March 22, 6:30 p.m.), 2 bands — Clueless and Pearl — perform at Toquet Hall. All musicians play at the School of Rock. All are from Westport and Fairfield.

Ethan — now 8 — is the youngest participant. By 5 years.

School of Rock logo

The bands play music by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Black Crowes, Santana and more. Many of the songs relate in some way to people on the autism spectrum.

Last November, the School of Rock house band drummer asked Ethan’s mother, Allison Ziering Walmark, if Ethan could join them in the concert.

“School of  Rock fosters an atmosphere of acceptance and respect, regardless of musical ability,” she says. “Ethan truly considers his bandmates his friends, and vice versa. The mere concept of friendship can be so foreign to people on the autism spectrum.”

A few days later, the band sent Allison another email: They wanted the concert to be a benefit for Autism Speaks.

If that doesn’t make your heart sing, nothing will.

Autism Speaks

5 responses to “Autism Speaks — And Ethan Rocks

  1. I know Ethan and his family, as my kids are also School of Rock die-hards. Ethan is a remarkable child, his parents are the most encouraging, loving, supportive people you could ever imagine for a child with “special” (make that, unique) needs and skills. School of Rock has been a godsend for my kids and many others, and it is an absolute joy to see the way the culture there fosters love and acceptance among all of their kids. At SOR, the kids see only their commonalities (a love of music, classic rock, and exposure to different genres and artists) and never their differences. This is, in part, to the beautiful and impressive leadership of Music Director Frank Perrouna and General Manager Todd Springer. They are the true rock stars who make SOR a home for kids like Ethan and everyone else. Keep rocking’ it, Ethan – we love you!

  2. Dan, On behalf of Ethan and our family, thank you for capturing his essence. So many people over the years have worked with Ethan and have contributed to his progress, but it’s been music — specifically Bekah DeMieri and School of Rock — who have really taken him to new levels. Kudos to the students and instructors at School of Rock for creating an environment of love, acceptance and friendship,

  3. David Webster

    My kids have done numerous School of Rock shows with Ethan, and have always loved the experience. In the practice room and on stage, they don’t see his diagnosis. All they see is a fellow player who happens to be very good (not just “good for his age”) and who shares their passion for music, in all its forms. That’s one of my favorite things about SoR. It blurs away many of the distinctions that keep kids from relating to one another and gives them a safe, creative common ground and language in which they learn about themselves and how to work with others. And of course his enthusiasm is infectious. It’s impossible for them not to have a good time when he’s performing with them. How can you remain a moody or sullen teenager when that kid starts smiling at you while perfectly reproducing ringtones (in between Steely Dan songs) on his keyboard? Can’t wait for Saturday night’s show!

  4. Francesco Perrouna

    I consider myself fortunate everyday that I get to be a part of such an incredible thing with such incredible people. What I would like to point out about this event is that the kids who are playing this gig are the ones who decided to turn it into a charity event.
    Aside from being a music education program, the lesson to value the others on this earth and to be a part of the solution is one that we try to impart to our students through this entire organization as a whole.
    Love these kids.

  5. Marina Evenstein

    This is amazing. My kids are at KHS and I had no idea we have such talent… Bravo to the boy , his parents and everyone who is so involved. This is inspiring.