80-year-old pianist with dementia moves ‘The Piano’ viewers with beautiful love theme for his wife

29 April 2024, 14:01

Man stuns audience with show on Channel 4's The Piano

By Siena Linton

Duncan has been playing the piano for over 75 years, and performed a special theme he wrote for his wife, Fran, on Channel 4’s ‘The Piano’.

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An 80-year-old pianist named Duncan stole the hearts and minds of the nation, with his timelessly romantic performance on The Piano on Sunday night.

Duncan performed a piece of his own, titled ‘Theme for Fran’, dedicating it to his wife of 42 years. “It’s a great big thank you,” he told presenter Claudia Winkleman, as she asked him about the piece.

“If he’s just playing anything and then he plays that, I just have to go across and give him a kiss!” Fran said.

Duncan began playing the piano at four, when he says he discovered “the strange gift of being able to play by ear”. Since then, he has enjoyed a lifetime of piano-playing.

Now, after Duncan was diagnosed with dementia two years ago, Fran says: “There’s a vulnerability there now that wasn’t there before. The future is unknown, but Duncan is everything to me.

“I would have him in any situation rather than not have him.”

Read more: Scientists find taking up piano lessons at older age could delay dementia onset

Duncan captured the hearts of the nation with his moving performance on ‘The Piano’.
Duncan captured the hearts of the nation with his moving performance on ‘The Piano’. Picture: Channel 4

As Duncan begins to play his ‘Theme for Fran’, the lyrical melody with its lightly jazz-influenced chords spills out onto the Manchester Piccadilly concourse, as onlookers watch in captive silence.

“It’s beautiful,” Lang Lang commented to fellow judge Mika, who added: “It sounds like a piece from another time.”

Looking on from a secret room, the two discuss the healing power of music, as Mika says Duncan’s piano-playing is “his self-prescribed medicine”.

“Another great thing with music is that, in music, if you remember the song, probably the things around the song will come back,” Lang Lang added.

“It feels part of us now. I feel love when I hear it,” Fran said of her theme. “It just gives me such total feeling about the girl I found, the girl I married. The girl I love, and always will.”

As Duncan performs the final notes to his theme, his audience erupts in cheers and applause.

Read more: Inspiring moment 92-year-old with dementia remembers Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata on piano

Musician Lang Lang says he cannot believe success of Channel 4’s The Piano

Claudia Winkleman was so moved by Duncan’s performance and his story that she immediately left the concourse to tell the judges: “He is going to the concert. It’s not a debate.

“The fact that he can speak through the piano, and that is what’s keeping his disease at bay,” she continued.

“We’re here to show the power that that instrument can have,” Mika agreed. “And it’s a superpower.”

The hit television series returned to screens across the nation this weekend, following the success of its first series last year.

Presented by Claudia Winkleman with star judges Lang Lang and Mika, the series searches for some of the greatest amateur pianists from across the UK.

The first episode took place in Manchester’s bustling Piccadilly train station – a city with a rich musical heritage from Joy Division and Oasis, to Lang Lang’s own performing debut in the UK.

Watch The Piano every Sunday night at 9pm on Channel 4.