Mystery of the silent 'Piano Man' whose only language is music
Tuesday 17 May 2005
He was found in tuxedo, white shirt and tie - from which all labels were cut. His shoes were rubbed clean of identifying marks. And in the five weeks since he was found in north Kent, walking in darkness by the sea in dripping clothes, the slightly built man with deep brown eyes has not said a word.
But he does make beautiful music. He plays the piano for hours at a time, providing repeated renditions of his own classical compositions. According to those who have heard him, he is talented - some say exceptionally so.
The "Piano Man", as he has become known, also draws - producing sketch after perfect sketch of himself and grand pianos.
He sits, incommunicado, in a locked, hospital ward close to the M25, possibly in expectation of someone claiming him as their own or offering a clue as to his identity. But those caring for the 6ft-tall virtuoso, who is in his twenties or thirties and was found on a beachside road on the Isle of Sheppey on 7 April, admitted yesterday there was a chance they would never know his real name, or where he came from.
His social worker, Michael Camp, said staff were at a loss to help a patient who seemed to have gone out of his way to ensure his own anonymity.
Mr Camp, based at the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, said it was a "possiblility" his client would never be identified. "But I'm rather hoping it won't be. It's been such a long time, it would be difficult never to know. But if nobody can name this guy I don't see how we can possibly find out. Every label has been removed from his clothing so we do not know where he might have come from. In 20 years of working in mental health, I have never seen anything as severe."
His carers are working on the basis that he has suffered amnesia or a breakdown due to a sudden trauma. But they say without an identity it is impossible to offer full treatment.
The National Missing Persons Helpline and care workers said they had been inundated with calls, both from the UK and overseas, following the publication of a his picture. A number of those calls were from America. But they said claims to have identified the man, variously placing him in locations from Sussex to concert halls across Europe, were being treated with caution.
Ramanah Venkiah, manager of the health unit in Dartford where the man is being cared for, said: "He is a vulnerable young man and we must be careful."
The blond-haired enigma, who goes nowhere without a sheet of manu-script music, has given no indication as to how he came to be wandering on the seafront. Such is his fear of strangers that the picture taken of him by carers to help publicise the case had to be taken paparazzi-style from a distance.
Although he was soaking wet when found, he was physically uninjured and he remains fit and well. Initial theories that he may have been attending a funeral or playing a concert in the area have led nowhere.
Interpreters fluent in Latvian, Polish and Lithuanian who visited him to see if he was eastern European also failed to elicit a response. Theories that he is an asylum-seeker who was dropped off the Kent coast have also been dismissed.
Reports that he had drawn a Swedish flag were downplayed yesterday after it emerged that he had, in fact, drawn a flag with a cross but in pencil and with no colours. Mr Camp said: "I believe he understands English. He gives slight nods, I think to show he understands something I've said."
The man has recovered enough to cater for his basic needs, but he avoids television and radio, choosing instead to produce a detailed pencil drawing every few days of a piano casting a deep shadow from its open lid. He has also written musical script.
Staff at the West Kent NHS and Social Care Trust say his only solace is his music. Mr Camp said: "When I first saw him in Gillingham, he was left with a pencil and paper and when we came back he had drawn a perfect piano.
"We took him to the hospital chapel where there is a piano. The first time he played it was for four hours, non-stop. He plays beautifully and he sounds professional.
"If you put him in front of a piano, his whole demeanour changes. He completely relaxes and is oblivious to people around him."
Although his current accommodation does not have a piano, managers said they have provided an electronic keyboard. Among the pieces he has played are extracts from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and longer pieces that seem to be his own work.
The plight of Mr X drawn parallels with David Helfgott, the pianist whose breakdown was the subject of the 1996 film Shine, starring Geoffrey Rush, who won an Oscar for his performance.
Marjorie Wallace, head of the charity Sane, said: "It is not uncommon for the language of music to remain intact even when all other mental processes may be shattered by physical, emotional or mental trauma."
Anyone who recognises the man can contact the National Missing Persons Helpline on 0500 700 700.
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