May 18, 2005
A Silent Man Who Excels at the Piano Baffles Britain
By ALAN COWELL
LONDON, May 17 - The eyes seem soft and scared and peer from the photograph of a blond man clutching what may be a musical score. Beyond that not too much is known about this enigmatic figure who may be in his 20’s or 30’s and may be English or not - save that he plays the piano with ease and confidence.
The newspapers call him the Piano Man.
Since early April, medical authorities in southeast England have been caring for a man around six feet tall who was found wandering on a beach in damp clothes on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. He was wearing a dark suit - some say a tuxedo - and a white shirt. The labels had been cut from his clothes so they offered no clues to his identity, according to Adrian Lowther, a spokesman for the hospital authority caring for the mysterious man.
He may, some newspapers have speculated, be an asylum seeker who had removed all forms of identity; he may be a man suffering from amnesia after a terrible shock of some kind - a loss, a death. But none of that can be confirmed because he has not spoken or communicated in words - spoken or written - since he was found.
All that is known, Mr. Lowther said on Tuesday, is that when the people who cared for him gave him a pencil and paper in early April, he drew a grand piano casting a deep shadow. And when they took him to a piano in a hospital chapel he was transformed, playing fluently in what seemed a classical style.
“The only people who have heard him play are a select number of people caring for him and they are not classical music experts,” Mr. Lowther said, commenting on reports in British newspapers that the man played a range of music from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” to Lennon and McCartney.
Some people, thus, have likened his experience to that of the pianist David Helfgott, portrayed in the 1996 movie “Shine” as interrupted by mental illness.
He is, Mr. Lowther said, shy in the extreme. “If you went into a room with him he would shy away,” he said. “It is likely that he would hide under the covers. He will not engage with anyone.”
Interpreters fluent in Latvian, Polish and Lithuanian have visited him without eliciting a response. His photograph has been circulated by newspapers in Sweden. Almost 400 people have contacted a help line for missing people (+44-500-700-700) but none have provided a definitive identity.
There is, of course, the delicate question of whether the man is a bona fide patient, although that issue may arise in the future. “We have got nothing to suggest” that he is not a genuine case, Mr. Lowther said. “And we have a duty of care to look after him until something suggests otherwise.”
It is possible, too, that the man may never be identified.
Indeed, said Michael Camp, a social worker assigned to the man, “if nobody can name this guy, then I don’t see how we can possibly find out” who he really is.