Maestro Playing Classical Symphonies on the Streets of Melbourne

This 84-year-old pianist has been playing on the streets of Melbourne for a number of years. (Image:  YouTube/Screenshot)
This 84-year-old pianist has been playing on the streets of Melbourne for a number of years. (Image: YouTube/Screenshot)

An elderly woman has been bringing joy to the streets of Melbourne for the past several years. Now 84 years of age, Natalie Trayling is a classically trained musician who feels that the open public platform is where she can best express her talent.

The pianist

Natalie has lived a harsh life. She has been homeless several times. But what ripped her apart was the death of her two daughters. The first daughter died in 1967 in a car accident. About two decades later in 1986, Natalie lost her second daughter after she succumbed to cystic fibrosis. Her son Nathan, who was once a promising football player, ended up with substance abuse, as he was unable to cope with the loss of his sister.

Together with Nathan, Natalie moved to Melbourne for a fresh start in 1993. Even though her ex-husband Denis and her other son, Matthew, offered help, Natalie refused, as she wanted to live a free life. However, she ended up sleeping outdoors and in boarding houses for the next several years. In 2008, Denis suggested that she start playing music. He bought her a Roland keyboard. A shop agreed to let her plug the cord of the keyboard into their socket. When she started playing out on the street, Natalie realized a fulfillment she never had before.

People were amazed by her performance, as they could not believe that someone so talented was not on the big stages. Gerard Willems, a renowned classical pianist, was taken aback by Natalie’s talent. “I heard her play the ­Adagio movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata as well as Widmung by Schumann arranged by Liszt… then arranged by Trayling! The harmonies and melodies were true to the original but she improvised in a free gypsy style with extra fiorituri, extra octaves and a sprinkling of arpeggios! I could’ve listened to her all day. It is clear she is someone who has been seriously trained,” he said to The Australian.

Natalie has turned down several offers to play at concert halls. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Several prestigious theatres have approached Natalie over the years to get her to play on their stage. However, she refused them all. She even turned down a studio offer to record her material. Matthew tried to make Natalie accept payments offered by third parties interested to work with her. However, he soon gave up after realizing that his mom was a free bird who simply wanted to play music and nothing else. Mathew helps Natalie transport her keyboard to the playing location. As to why she loves to perform on the streets and not in front of a huge crowd in a prestigious venue, Natalie has an interesting answer.  

When playing in the open: “Children come up to me, people of all classes and all walks of life… I just love being there and I feel that they should hear the music. The way I feel when I play and the way I feel when I’m among the people, it just feels really good… It’s something I wouldn’t get from a concert hall because only certain people go there. But this is for everyone,” she said to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Street performances in Melbourne

The Melbourne city government recently introduced a new set of laws that is giving street performers nightmares. In April, the city started requiring that performers have permits in order to play on the streets. The city’s “premium permit,” which allows musicians to perform in the best spots, mandates that they have at least six months of experience on the streets and pass an audition.

Street musicians need permits to perform in Melbourne. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

“Our new premium permit… is heavily weighted towards the performance and engagement value of the act — alongside important considerations of sound levels, safety and crowd management,” Councillor Rohan Leppert, Chair of the arts, culture, and heritage portfolio, said to The Guardian.

Several street artists think that the audition is a flawed system that does not recognize real talent. In one of the auditions, a famous panpipe player named Jorge Cuba failed to make the cut. This shocked peers who now worry that many of them may as well be denied the chance of playing.

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