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History

The Great Piano Story

Tue 19 Jan
Image credit: Ham&Hide

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The story of a piano that travelled all the way from Camden Market to the Himalayas

One of the best things about working in Camden Market is the eclectic mix of people you meet and the extraordinary stories they have to share. Such a chance encounter led the owner of Camden Piano Rescue, Desmond Gentle on an adventure of a lifetime.

Nestled on the West Yard staircase leading up to Market Hall, Camden Piano Rescue is the perfect place to go if you happen to need a piano tuning or repairing. In the 19th century, piano manufacture was Camden Town’s main industry. At this time, almost every street corner in North London was a piano works. 200 years later and Desmond's workshop is a testament to this history.

In 2013 a client dropped into Desmond’s shop to have her piano tuned. Desmond learned that the woman worked as a teacher at a school in Lingshed, a remote Himalayan village that is believed to be the last traditional Buddhist enclave in the world. On her way out the woman expressed how sad it is that the children at the school can’t have a piano because of the far-flung location of the village. According to Ham&Hide Desmond’s reply was instant: ‘I’ll get you a piano to Lingshed.'

Challenge accepted. What started off as nothing more than a passing comment, set in motion a chain of events that a year later saw 65-year-old Desmond and his team of 20 people climb the Himalayas with a piano on their backs, so to speak.

The journey began with a flight to Delhi, followed by a long drive to Leh in Kashmir and two days of trekking, carrying the piano by foot across the mountains. After one final hike which involved walking on 15-inch-wide trails over 1,000 foot drops, the group finally reached their destination. Naturally the arrival of the piano caused excitement in the local community, especially amongst the children who, largely unfamiliar with Western culture, had never seen or heard a piano before.

‘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.’ The children are to receive lessons by a visiting concert pianist and Desmond and his group are planning a second trip to Lingshed to hear the children playing… and to tune the piano, of course.

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