Blind pianist Ethan Loch (10) is no stranger to major success

  • Ethan Loch was born blind but has played piano from the age of four
  • Won several prizes at the prestigious Glasgow Music Festival
  • Enjoys writing and performing at the family home in Dennyloanhead
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It is a bright Monday afternoon in spring and The Falkirk Herald is enjoying a virtuoso performance from a critically acclaimed pianist.

The venue is not a grand music hall but a side room in a modest family home in Dennyloanhead. The performer begins with one of his own compositions, an upbeat jazz number, before moving onto an improvised version of Mozart’s Sonata in C major.

Ethan Loch performing at home in Dennyloanhead. Picture: Michael Gillen

Ethan Loch performing at home in Dennyloanhead. Picture: Michael Gillen

Suitably inspired, he then begins a moving rendition of Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in the same key.

The pianist, Ethan Loch, plays all three pieces from memory. He has been blind from birth.

Watching the 10-year-old’s performance is his mum Larinda, who encouraged her son to begin playing at the age of four. A piano teacher, she understood that music would be a perfect creative outlet for Ethan and encourage him to lead a full life not constrained by his disability.

While his obvious talent was well-known by dad Fraser, brother Nathanael (15) and sister Hannah (6), it remained unknown to the wider public until this month.

I’m not the kind of boy that feels nervous. I was excited to be playing. Mummy was nervous

Ethan Loch

That’s when Ethan entered the 103rd Glasgow Music Festival, a prestigious event that provides a platform for classical performance.

Established in 1911, the event is a two-week celebration of music, speech, drama and dance with around 7000 performers.

Despite it being his first time in the competition, he showed no sign of nerves.

“I’m not the kind of boy that feels nervous,” he told The Falkirk Herald. “I was excited to be playing. Mummy was the one that was nervous.”

Ehtan with his family on the final night of the Glasgow Music Festival, shortly after winning the Hugh S Roberton Memorial Trophy for outstanding solo performer

Ehtan with his family on the final night of the Glasgow Music Festival, shortly after winning the Hugh S Roberton Memorial Trophy for outstanding solo performer

In the first week of the event he finished joint-third in the Piano Sonata class despite being the youngest competitor.

He then finished second in the Modern Piano Solos class.

Daily newspapers and television news channels from across the UK were quickly falling over themselves to find out more about this apparent prodigy from a small village near Denny.

But it was only the beginning of the story.

On Saturday, Ethan returned to Renfield St Stephen’s Church in Glasgow to take part in the final night of the festival.

Following an apparently effortless performance of ‘O Polchinelo’, by the renowned Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos, Ethan was awarded the Hugh S Roberton Memorial Trophy for the most outstanding solo performer under 14-years-of-age.

“I don’t want to detract from the hard work that was involved, but Ethan did rise to the occasion,” said Larinda (46).

“The audience loved it. One woman came up and asked me: ‘is that boy really blind?’. She was so amazed by his performance.

“His first love is classical music. When I entered competitions I would come home and not go near a piano. But he came back from Glasgow and immediately began playing again, he was so inspired.”

The Falkirk Herald visited the Loch family home this week to find out more about Ethan’s remarkable story.

Once a miner’s cottage, the property was greatly expanded by its previous owner and now provides ample room for the several pianos and keyboards that are in regular use - Nathanael and Hannah are talented pianists in their own right.

A cheerful Ethan answers all questions with confidence and good humour, which is unsurprising given the number of interviews he has given in recent days. He’s fast becoming an accomplished media performer as well as a talented pianist.

So why did he want to learn the piano?

“It was the sound of them on DVDs,” he said. “I really liked it, and I began playing along with one finger.

“I began composing songs when I was six. I’m still working on one called ‘Winter Flowers’, which I really like.”

Learning notes was “easy-peasy” he added.

The youngster practices for at least an hour each day, but this rises to around three to four hours if a competition is on the horizon.

“Before Glasgow I once played all day,” he said, with obvious enthusiasm. The cliché of the unenthusiastic child forced to learn piano by an encouraging parent could not be further from the truth in this case. Larinda gently asks Ethan on several occasions if he could stop playing as she is trying to speak. He really would play all day if he could.

It’s often said that an instrument becomes an extension of the best musicians, and Ethan is a perfect example.

“He learns everything by ear,” explained Larinda. “He has perfect pitch - that’s not something that can be taught, he was born with it.”

Ethan was taught to play using what is known as the ‘Suzuki method’, the central belief of which is that all people are capable of learning from their environment, and creating the “right environment” for learning music.

Dr Suzuki, a Japanese violinist, became famous worldwide for spreading his philosophy of music teaching, which involves getting children to begin as young as possible.

Typically this begins when they are under-five and involves teaching them pieces from memory which they play repeatedly.

The British Suzuki Institute claims there are currently more than a quarter of a million students being taught the Suzuki method by more than 8000 teachers worldwide.

Meanwhile, Ethan’s family are thinking about where his musical career will take him next.

“We would like him to go to a music school,” said Larinda. “But with his condition it could be difficult. For now he’s just enjoying his playing.”