May 5, 2012
The Piano Man
He stands by his instrument with total confidence, sliding into his introduction of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with gusto, and ease. A man strumming on his guitar sits next to him, but as I push play on the YouTube clip, all I can hear are the chords ringing out from the keys, the perfect cadence and rhythm of a song I could sing in my sleep. It sounds pretty close to a rendition by the “Piano Man” himself, and I am completely blown away by the artist who is entertaining me. His name is Ethan Walmark, and he is clearly enthusiastic and engaged by the task at hand, utterly lost in the moment, and in the music.
He is barely six years old. He is also a child with autism.
The video clip above apparently went viral this weekend and was seen by thousands of people, including the author of this classic tune himself. Mr. Joel is quoted in washingtonpost.com as saying “I think I like his intro to “Piano Man” better than mine. And this kid plays with a lot more energy than me. Maybe he could teach me a few things.” Of course Ethan’s parents were overwhelmed by the fact that the master himself even saw the clip, much less commented on their son’s talent.
After finding out that Mr. Joel himself had taken the time to respond to what he’d seen, Michael and Allison Walmark are also quoted as saying they were “honored and humbled that Mr. Joel watched Ethan’s video, and took the time to make such gracious comments about his piano playing. If Ethan’s love and joy of music can change one person’s mind about autism, we are happy.”
And really, that comment reflects everything that so many of our families are striving toward. It mirrors our desire to demonstrate to the world all of our children’s gifts, even if they’re not packaged in the form of such a unique and singular talent.
I hope you take a minute to watch Ethan perform, and not just to view the phenomenal technical skill of a boy who’s barely out of pre-school. Ethan, perhaps without knowing it, is a message to the world. Our kids count. They have worth. That really, it’s time to move past tolerance of those who differ from the mainstream, and transcend such a narrow and limiting view. Compassion. Acceptance. Respect. These are the feelings we should be witnessing in our society. These are the emotions which should be reflected in the eyes of all who truly see our children, much as Ethan’s determination and heart are reflected in those ebonies and ivories, which when blended together with care never fail to create a beautiful harmony.
I hope you always continue to “give us a song” Ethan. And as the master himself would say, “we’re all in the mood for a melody, and you’ve got us feeling alright.”
Thank you to Ethan, and to Michael and Allison as well.
The Walmark family will be participating in an upcoming walk for Autism Speaks. If you’d like to donate to this organization, please follow the link below: