Extraordinary feat as team carries piano from Camden Market up the Himalayas
PUBLISHED: 16:00 01 December 2014
Lying in one of the most remote places in the world and overlooking the Himalayas, children of the Lingshed school hear the sound of Chopin for the very first time.
The centrepiece of what is the highest concert ever performed, held on the edge of a mountain, is an upright piano that has taken an extraordinary journey from a repair shop in Camden Lock Market to this isolated north Indian community.
And in typical style of a true adventure story, the astonishing feat came about after people insisted it couldn’t be done.
“The idea was completely accidental, but I was determined to make it happen,” said Desmond Gently, owner of Camden Piano Rescue.
“One day, a woman came into my shop to have her piano tuned. She happened to mention she worked in a very remote school in what is the last traditional Buddhist enclave in the world.
“She said in passing, ‘I wish the children there could have a piano, but it’s just too remote’.
“I wanted to prove her wrong, so I said ‘I’ll get you a piano to Lingshed’.”
At the age of 65, it was a daunting task and would be Desmond’s first ever trek.
While trying his best to get fit by walking around Regent’s Park, he began assembling a team and more chance encounters with other customers saw a filmmaker and photographer come on board.
Then came mountain guides, complete with their yaks, promising to wait for them 4,000 miles away.
It took a year until the entire team of 20, six from Camden, was assembled.
Catching a plane with the piano as luggage to Delhi in September, they then went by jeep to Leh in Kashmir.
As the roads disappeared, the expedition ended with two days of arduous trekking, carrying the piano by foot and yak up and down mountains almost as high as Mount Kilimanjaro.
The final hike, involving drops of 1,000ft on trails 15 inches wide, at one point saw eight people clinging to ropes lowering the piano down steep mountainsides.
Exhausted, their eventual arrival saw the team welcomed by a community left largely untouched for hundreds of years and with children who had never seen, let alone heard, a piano before.
“It was a remarkable journey from one of the busiest places on earth to one of the most remote,” said Desmond.
“We played them some Chopin and a few modern pop songs – the children were so excited.
“When the snow comes they spend months stuck indoors so it’ll give them something great to do.”
So unique is the community, the village is now subject to a scientific study on the impact of modernity.
And as lessons are given by a visiting concert pianist, the team are planning to go back next year to hear the children play their own concert. And to tune the piano.