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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 18:32 GMT
Piano tuners seek Amazon jungle harmony
Guyanan locals carrying the piano
The piano is out of tune after two years in the jungle
Getting a grand piano to an Indian tribe deep in the Amazon jungle was one thing.


I said 'Good God, have you any idea what a grand piano looks like?' and he said 'I've seen pictures of one'

Colonel John Blashford-Snell recalling the request for a grand piano

Now it needs tuning.

Three British piano tuners have arrived in Guyana for a 560-kilometre (350-mile) journey through the jungle to restore harmony to a tiny village.

It has been two years since British explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell delivered on a promise made to the Wai Wai tribe's chief priest, Elijah.

Now he is leading the team to retune the mahogany instrument in the tiny settlement of Masakemari.

He told the BBC's World Today programme how he received the original request from Elijah.

"I said 'Good God, have you any idea what a grand piano looks like?' and he said 'I've seen pictures of one'.

Map of Guyana showing Georgetown and Masakemari
"I didn't think he'd ever be able to play it and I remarked on that and he said no, no, we are musical people.

"Then he said 'God moves in mysterious ways'."

And so the challenge was taken up.

Mahogany sledge

Colonel Blashford-Snell, founder of the Scientific Exploration Society, secured a donated piano and free air-freight, but only as far as the island of Trinidad, 600km (375 miles) from Guyana's capital, Georgetown.

"Then we've got to get it 350 miles into the jungle and so we manufactured a mahogany sledge in Georgetown and we flew the piano as far as we could into the jungle," he said.

Piano's journey
Flown as air-freight to Trinidad
Flown to Georgetown, Guyana
Flown deep into the Amazon jungle
Pulled on a sledge across savannah
Floated up a river onboard a dugout canoe
Carried through swamps
Carried up mountain

"When we got there we were met by one or two Indians - we had hoped there'd be rather more but there were only a few of them - and they helped us to pull this thing over the savannah and into the jungle for a few miles, finally down to a very large river.

"Then we had to get it up the river and we got a large dugout canoe with a very small outboard motor and we shot the rapids going upstream which was quite an interesting experience.

"Then we came to the mountain where the Indians have built their new village above the flood level and we finally had to get round the mountain by sort of edging through swampy creeks and then climb the mountain with the piano.

"So by this time the Indians had got the bit between their teeth and there were lots of them and we got the piano up to the top of the hill."

Musical skills

They unpacked the piano from its crate to the delight of the village and Colonel Blashford-Snell who found the priest's confidence was merited.


In spite of all the humidity - and the wet weather as you can imagine is pretty ferocious here - the instrument still works

Colonel John Blashford-Snell

"Within 10 minutes the Indians are playing it, because they are naturally musical people - they have tremendous rhythm," he said.

Remarkably, the piano was still able to be played as recently as six months ago when a minister visited the Wai Wai, the explorer said.

"In spite of all the humidity - and the wet weather as you can imagine is pretty ferocious here - the instrument still works," Colonel Blashford-Snell said.

He added the piano tuners were "up for the challenge" though tired by their journey from London.

But he said he was bringing a keyboard on this expedition which could make future trips for piano tuners unnecessary while still allowing the Wai Wai to enjoy their music.

"What I'm working on is a pedal-powered electrical generator and I'm trying to build some sort of treadmill so that the Indians can get on this and pound round whilst their piano plays tunes in the church."

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Colonel John Blashford-Snell
"Within 10 minutes the Indians were playing it!"
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