Spreading hope and smiles through music with stunning views
(Part 1)

Kelvin Smith / Pianist

My life took a significant turn when I rediscovered piano.

Kelvin Smith started learning the piano at the age of 10 and gave it up five years later. A passion for the instrument resurged in him in his mid-thirties, and he started playing outdoors. We asked him what drew him back to the piano and why he developed his routine of performing in the open air. His creative activities have interesting roots.

I started piano lessons at age 10 but gave up five years later.

I grew up in a family with 11 children. We had a family rule that every sibling couldn’t start on piano lessons until they turned 10 years old. I was no exception. Most of us enjoyed playing on the piano in our family lounge and took lessons one by one. We played the usual sort of thing, lullabies and easy classical pieces. I enjoyed the experience. But five years after starting the lessons I gave up. I was much more into heavy rock and popular music at that point, and I felt pressured by the regular performance tests our piano teacher asked us to take.

Some of my brothers and sisters continued with the lessons for much longer and became far better than I was. They were good enough to perform in front of audiences. I became more of a listener than a player. Moving into my twenties, my musical tastes expanded from rock to Celtic music and other folk genres.

Kelvin moved to the capital city of Tasmania, Hobart, in 2005. His encounter with the beautiful nature of the island is at the core of his performances.

A piano piece in a movie ignited my passion for the instrument.

At the age of 15, I decided to become a jeweler. Five years later, I had a workshop of my own. Then I got married and started a family. The demands of work and parenting left little space in my life for music. Occasionally, on Sunday visits to church, I played for the service when no one else was around to do it. That was perhaps the only music in my life.

Then one day I watched the film, The Piano, and fell in love with the soundtrack theme song, The Heart Asks Pleasure First. I yearned to play it myself, and deep down believed that I could. So I went shopping for sheet music and bought myself a copy of the score. It pleased me to have a new project. Setting up challenges is something I have always liked to do.

It took me longer than I had expected, a full 18 months, to get my fingers back into working condition and master the piece. It was the sheer beauty of The Heart Asks Pleasure First that kept me on my toes. I practiced not to play for audiences, but for myself. Thinking back, I wonder if my yearning to play the song was at root a subconscious wish to get back to the piano.

Apart from jewelry-making and piano, Kelvin’s activities extend to brick-laying. “This is my workout,” he explains off-hand. “The physical labor conditions me to carry my piano wherever I choose.”

My debut stage as a pianist was a capital-city hotel bar.

An opportunity came to me about two years after I started the piano again, when my skills were back and I could play a comfortable rendition of The Heart Asks Pleasure First. I saw a grand piano standing in the restaurant bar at a five-star hotel in Hobart, the Tasmanian capital. My urge to play it was instant.

I plucked up the courage to ask the bartender to let me play a tune. That seemed like a longshot: I was just this random person, showing up in my street clothes in a ritzy hotel.

“That’s fine,” the bartender said.

So I sat at the grand piano and started playing The Heart Asks Pleasure First, savoring the piece, note by note. A nicely dressed hotel manager came up to me to observe for a moment. Before I finished the song, he offered me a job.

“Would you like to play this piano every Friday evening?” he asked.

I took him up, with great delight. I’ve been performing at the hotel every Friday night since. My repertoire and confidence have both grown, though an audience of people can still put me on edge. Playing, for me, is more about creating relaxing, enjoyable moments for people than becoming a flawless musician. That basic yearning, to relax people and spread joy, got me started on my quest to play in other settings.

Kelvin playing the grand piano at the Hobart hotel restaurant and bar. The regular opportunity of performance gave him the chance to gain experience and grow his repertoire as a budding career pianist.

Read the Part 2

Kelvin Smith / Pianist
Kelvin is a Tasmania-based pianist with many other faces—a jeweler, a church/community leader, a bricklayer. He takes his piano into the open air and gives concerts on the beach, in the street, on a boat. His unique performances against beautiful backdrops have gained him a following through streaming services and social media.

Interview Date:

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