Lara Kirsten hits the keys of her special Gors and Kallmann in her Lidgetton farm studio. Picture: Duncan Guy
Durban - What better solitude could a piano player ask for than a rondawel studio on a Midlands farm?

That’s where classical pianist and poet Lara Kirsten, who performed at the Michaelhouse Music Festival on the weekend, finds space to practise hitting the keys.

It’s been a long journey to have this facility. She used to cycle up a hill at Hogsback in the Eastern Cape, where she previously lived, to use the piano in the chapel.

That was during her “drought” days when she survived without a piano, having had access to others in her younger days.

And how Kirsten’s prized Gors and Kallmann piano landed up in her possession and in her Lidgetton rondawel is something of a fairy tale.

“I once gave a recital at Kareedouw in the Eastern Cape, in 2009. Some real salt-of-the-earth people who often organised concerts, invited me to their home. Two years later they attended an auction where a random piano was on sale and they said, ‘we’ll buy this for Lara’.”

She travelled to the Eastern Cape to collect the Gors and Kallmann piano from her friends Marten and Carin Bootsma.

Having it at Lidgetton became a huge convenience.

“There were one or two times when I would wake up and, at any point in the night, I could go down to the rondawel to play it,” she said.

Such was the relief of not having to always ask other people if she could play on their pianos.

Although Kirsten and her partner Kim Goodwin have once taken her much loved piano to AfrikaBurn in the Karoo, it doesn’t accompany her to concerts. She performs on different instruments at each venue, with Pietermaritzburg’s Tatham Gallery being her favourite in KwaZulu-Natal.

And she’s seen the whole range of home concert venues, “from honky-tonks to brilliant ones”, she said.

While Kirsten is used to being on stage, she also enjoys home concerts. “They break that myth about artists being untouchable. We’re just human beings.” Pianist Christopher Duigan is one of Kirsten’s home concert role models, often seen “handling tickets and stirring the soup. That means a lot to the audience,” she said.

Kirsten grew up in a family where she and her late musician father, Louis, “held the fort” in keeping the family’s musical talents alive, while the others became scientists and engineers. Her mother, Sonja, is a bank manager.

Kirsten spent her early career years travelling the world with improvising cellist Francois le Roux, gaining experience in more than just music.

“I learned how to cope with travel stress, venues, bookings, merchandise, programmes and dealing with the media.”

Kirsten enjoys her trips away from Lidgetton to perform at concerts.

“I am at my most creative when I am travelling,” she said.

But back at home, she often thinks up ideas for her poetry when taking a walk to her favourite kopje.

“When I am alone with the reedbuck,” she said.

The reading of her poems, both in English and her mother-tongue Afrikaans, is scheduled to be part of her performance at Michaelhouse in nearby Balgowan today.

When Kirsten moved to KwaZulu-Natal six years ago, she thought audiences would not understand Afrikaans, so she kept her readings to English, saying “every poet wants to be understood”.

But she found people wanted to hear both languages and “to compare the two”, she said, before returning to her special Gors and Kallmann to show The Independent on Saturday just how good the acoustics of a carpeted Midlands farm rondawel can be.