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Melissa Walker features in Channel 4’s ‘The Piano at Christmas’

Fri 26 January 2024

TL BAMPI student, pianist and composer Melissa Monique Walker featured in the dazzling festive edition of Channel 4’s The Piano programme. Hosted by Claudia Winkleman and judged by international pianist Lang Lang and pop star Mika, The Piano is a heart-warming TV series that puts the best amateur pianists in the limelight.

Airing for the first time last year, The Piano is a show focusing on the “street piano” phenomenon by inviting gifted amateurs to play at train stations all over the country. Having featured in the debut series, Melissa returns to wow audiences at King’s Cross station in the latest Christmas special.

Melissa’s love for the piano stems from anime and game music. When she was younger, the soundtrack to the Nintendo game Animal Crossing Wild World and an anime featuring Chopin’s Minute Waltz sparked her interest in the instrument. In December 2017, Melissa was gifted a piano from her dad for Christmas. After teaching herself to play from YouTube videos for a year, she took up lessons and got to Grade 8 in just four years. Describing herself as shy in secondary school, Melissa states that the piano has helped her grow in strength and confidence.

The Piano at Christmas invites pianists from the first series to return to the station stage. A few surprises also lie in store: notably, a festive feature of comics Jo Brand and Tom Allen, and a performance from the wonderful winner Lucy in a duet with Gregory Porter. At the start of the special, Lang Lang tells the host that he is looking for a “really cool arrangement” featuring some sort of classical music and “delicate technique”. Meanwhile, Mika wants the musicians to “take a song and give it personality”. Melissa brilliantly fulfils the judges’ wishes, being the only guest to perform her own original work. Hailed by The Guardian as “her own wintry composition, which has soul flowing through its fingers”, Reflections is a lyrical, expressive piece. It evokes snow, blizzards, and ice – an auditory depiction of the winter season through music.

Written in a neoclassical style, a delicate melody emerges in the piano’s high register, supported by a whirlwind of rapid semiquavers. It provides a beautiful contrast to her first composition, Hope, that was aired in the debut episode of the series – a wonderful piece filled with open chords and poetic variation. Mika describes Reflections as “life and nature on pause”, commenting on her development as a pianist and remarking on her creative, interesting use of dissonant harmony. Lang Lang hails it as a “really wonderful” and thoughtful composition, with both judges labelling it as an emotional and “most touching” moment. Melissa cites her main reason for composing as a wish to impact her audience and convey her emotions – her performance does this perfectly.

Commenting on her time on The Piano, Melissa says – “It was an incredible thrill to be asked to appear on The Piano Christmas Special. I appeared on The Piano, London’s first season and was invited to return, as I was one of the six pianists selected for the Christmas special episode out of 80 who auditioned to be on the original series one show. Meeting Lang Lang and Claudia Winkleman again was a pleasure – it was lovely to get positive feedback from such a brilliant pianist that I look up to as a pianist myself. I’m happy that I was able to perform another composition of mine called Reflections on the show, linking to the theme of winter. I’m a student at Trinity Laban right now, doing the BA in Music Performance and Industry. I decided to study popular music in order to broaden my improvisational skills and discover new genres. After graduating from Trinity Laban, I hope to work as a successful neoclassical composer, playing in various London locations, putting my music on streaming services, and perhaps even writing soundtracks for motion pictures.”