Unconventional Pianist with CMT Hopes to Raise a Million

Alex Amble, who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, is trying to raise research dollars for MDA via his music and unusual playing style

Alex Amble has been playing piano since age 3 and started composing at age 11.
Article Highlights:
  • Alex Amble, 15, who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, has been a musical prodigy since the age of 3. One of his gifts is the ability to play piano backward and upside down. 
  • In 2010, Amble produced a CD that includes an original song dedicated to MDA, "When the Sun Goes Down." The teen, who lives in Woodbury, Minn., says he hopes to raise $1 million for MDA via online song sales.
by Richard Senti on February 14, 2011 - 5:02pm

Amble playing a "techno music" piece that he composed when he was 9.

Alex Amble has a dream. Of course a cure for Charcot-Marie Tooth disease (CMT), the disease he has, is part of it, but this 15-year-old musical wunderkind from Woodbury, Minn., dreams on a grander scale. He wants to raise $1 million for MDA research.

These are not just idle musings of a precocious child. Amble has a plan already in action.

The piano prodigy — who began playing at the age of 3, memorizing sheet music at 5, and composing at 11 — produced his first CD album, “Sunrise,” at age 14. Three of the songs on this mix of classical and jazz compositions are originals and one, “When the Sun Goes Down,” Amble has dedicated to MDA. If you buy this song online, all proceeds go to MDA; if you download the entire album, part of the proceeds will be donated.

Amble, who received his CMT diagnosis two years ago, feels lucky that he has a mild form of the disease. He tends to walk up on his toes and one of his hands trembles. But he looks at his situation positively — he doesn’t need a wheelchair and he can play the piano just fine.

Some kids mess around, playing video games; others play the piano upside down and backward. See for yourself:

Amble was born in Russia, in a town a couple hours north of Moscow. He was adopted at age 2 by Becky Amble and husband Marshall Gravdahl. Amble was extremely introverted when they first met him, but they fell in love with him nevertheless and the child immediately took to his new home in this suburb of St. Paul. He was instantly drawn to the piano — and the rest is history.

Amble liked fooling around, just like all kids, but one of his favorite games, starting when he was around 7, was to play “Ode To Joy” ... sitting with his back to the piano. This morphed into several other variations on a theme, including the ever-popular lying-on-his-back-on-the-bench-with-his-head-under-the-keyboard rendition.

His antics started gaining attention locally and almost landed him on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” A scheduling conflict kept Alex from taping the show, but his mom is busy trying to make it happen.

In the meantime, Alex and his family are hard at work on his “Million Dollar Challenge.” To see Alex perform, both straight and, well, not-so-straight, go to his website, www.alexamblemusic.com, and click on “Links.”

Amble was featured on last year's Minnesota MDA Telethon. At left is his mom, Becky; at right is Pasha, his little brother who was also adopted in Russia.

In addition to various YouTube clips, there are also links to CD Baby and iTunes, where you can preview and purchase his music, and to a special MDA donation page. Also on this links page is a video profile of Alex and his family, produced for last year’s Minnesota MDA Telethon.

Amble also has a Facebook page, "Alex's Million Dollar MDA Mission."

So, a million dollars for MDA? Impossible dream? Maybe. But this is the kind of spirit this talented young man has — and where there’s spirit, there’s hope.

 
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