Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is tough under any circumstances.
It’s even harder in front of a crowd of 25,000. In a stadium, with background noise, delay from the sound system, and god knows what else as you stand all alone on the field.
It’s particularly difficult when you’re only 11 years old.
But Westport’s own Ethan Walmark aced it on Saturday. He brought a sellout Major League Soccer crowd to its feet at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, powering through our national anthem like a pro.
Which he is.
Ethan’s band Clueless — formed by fellow School of Rock musicians — has opened 3 times for the all-female cover band Lez Zeppelin.
He’s been a Broadway “School of Rock” finalist. A lead performer in numerous theatrical productions.
In 2012 — when he was only 6 — a video of him playing and singing “Piano Man” went viral. It was viewed nearly 2 million times. Billy Joel himself said, “I like his intro better than mine. Maybe he could teach me a few things.”
Ethan is a hometown hero.
But he’s an international hero too. Every day, he demonstrates how much someone on the autism spectrum can accomplish.
Ethan began playing piano by ear when he was just 15 months old.
However, a preschool educator advised his parents, Michael and Allison, to take away his music. “You want him in your world, not his,” they were told.
Instead, they fostered his talents. They exposed him to as many musical experiences as they could. More than any other therapy, music positively transformed every aspect of Ethan’s existence.
In his young life, Ethan has been a 2-time (and youngest) recipient of the McCarron Foundation’s “Genius of Autism” Award.
He was named Autism Speaks’ 2012-13 “Volunteer of the Year.” On World Autism Awareness Day, he helped Yoko Ono light the Empire State Building.
Ethan thrives in his Westport public school classroom. In the summer, he attends French Woods Festival for the Arts sleepaway camp.
Those are remarkable achievements. But I still don’t think anything can compare to nailing the world’s most difficult national anthem, in a stadium full of people who usually hear it mangled and maimed by professional musicians 5 times his age.
(Click here for a collection of YouTube videos starring Ethan Walmark. Click here for “06880”‘s story on Ethan’s “Piano Man” video. Hat tip: Westport 2nd selectman and Red Bulls season ticket holder Avi Kaner.)