Maggie will play Sir Elton’s piano

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Maggie Dyson plays the piano at Dyrham Park, near Bath, on Saturday Maggie Dyson plays the piano at Dyrham Park, near Bath, on Saturday

Retired teacher Maggie Dyson has set herself the challenge of playing 365 different pianos around the world, raising money in her daughter’s memory.

The project has led her to lift the lid on pianos as far apart as Perth in Scotland and Capadoccia in Turkey.

She is also playing everywhere from Harrods to the Royal Albert Hall, when later this month she will play Sir Elton John’s red piano.

Mrs Dyson, 65, a former Gazette village correspondent from Hullavington, has played the piano since the age of eight and reached grade six as a child.

She played infrequently during her teaching career before taking up the instrument seriously in retirement after the sudden death of her daughter, Rachel Birlison, who died from epilepsy last year, aged 35.

“I needed to stop being miserable after Rachel died, so I reinvented myself,” said Mrs Dyson.

“When someone with learning difficulties dies it leaves a gap. You spend so long nurturing them.

“It’s a bit of a lonely place when your daughter dies.”

Since the start of her project, Mrs Dyson has played more than 300 pianos, the oldest of which was an 1810 square piano in Westbury, and the newest, a replica spinet, which was made this year.

A chance encounter on holiday led to an invitation to play Sir Elton John’s red piano at the Royal Albert Hall on September 26.

The piano will be set on stage ready for a jazz concert in the evening.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and I can’t thank the Albert Hall enough for making it available to me so soon after the proms,” said Mrs Dyson.

“My husband will be coming to London with me, so he may be my only audience, but I am really looking forward to playing such an iconic instrument in such a setting.

“In a way my debut at a music evening in our own village hall the following week will be more daunting, with an audience of friends and neighbours.

“Last November I played a £90,000 Bosendorfer grand piano in the now defunct Harrods piano department and followed that with a couple of tatty street pianos on Euston Station.

“People have been unfailingly generous by letting me play in their homes, in piano shops and in National Trust properties, and I hope that, despite my modest skill, they have enjoyed hearing me play.”

When she has finished her challenge, Mrs Dyson plans to write a book on her experiences.

Meanwhile, she is hoping to raise sponsorship, all of which will go to the Williams Syndrome Foundation in memory of her daughter, who suffered with the condition that causes heart and kidney problems, including learning difficulties.

To sponsor her, visit her Just Giving page, www.justgiving. com/Maggie-Dyson1

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