Sing us your song – you’re our piano man


A busking pianist from Belgium who’s become a cult figure in Queenstown will bare his life story locally this Saturday.

Mathias Lefebvre – aka ‘Mathias Piano Man’ – is one of seven speakers at an ideas-sharing event called TEDx Queenstown which will explore the theme ‘sense of place’.

The self-taught pianist has been playing his poignant tunes at night in Queenstown Bay regularly for three years while people walk along the waterfront.

Lefebvre’s instrument is a rickety piano that’s at least 90 years old which he bought from a Wanaka recycling depot about three years ago and then learned to play on.

Lefebvre wheels the piano into position every day then hides it away when he finishes.

“Some people say I’m the sound track of Queenstown – I love it ’cos I’m playing facing the lake, facing the mountains and I just watch these beautiful sunsets.”

An image of him shot by a Croatian photographer was one of 10 chosen by National Geographic Traveler magazine last year in a worldwide candid travel photography competition.

Lefebvre, 28, studied business in Belgium for four years then got a masters degree in humanitarian management after two years’ study in Paris.
“I didn’t really feel like doing [humanitarian management] straight away, I wanted to travel so I just went travelling and ended up here playing piano.
“I’ve been doing this for three years and I can go through the year – if I need more money, I play more.

“It’s all about how many CDs I sell – I wouldn’t live off the coins and donations.”

His holiday visa had almost expired when he met his Kiwi partner Fiona Craig while busking on the waterfront – he’s now on a partnership visa and the couple have a four-month-old daughter.

Lefebvre, who admits he can’t read music, says his tunes come from his emotions.

“If I don’t play for a few days, and then something makes me sad or extremely happy or angry, then I’ll sit at the piano and I’ll make a song on the spot.

“I find it quite easy – I don’t how how or why.”

Regarding Saturday’s TEDx, he says: “There’ll be quite a bit more of my story which is unsaid.

“It will be the first time I have explained it officially.”

The other local speakers are young singer-songwriter Holly Arrowsmith and social theorist Frederique Gulcher.

The line-up also includes internationally-renowned nutritional biochemist Dr Libby Weaver, internet expert Vikram Kumar and Radio Live correspondent and show host Andrew Patterson, a former Queenstowner.

The locally-organised event, which is sold out, is attached to the worldwide non-profit TED organisation.