Piano man adapts to short fingers

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 22/01/2014
DANIEL TOBIN/Fairfax NZ

Abbie Napier talks to pianist Richard Healey who was born with most of his fingers missing.

Richard Healey
DANIEL TOBIN
NO BARRIER: Richard Healey performs with Lili la Scala and Dusty Limits.

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Concert pianist and buskers' music man Richard Healey was born with fingers only an inch long, but you would not know it to hear him play.

Healey is a World Buskers Festival first-timer, playing the piano for Lili la Scala and cabaret act Dusty Limits.

While he likes to tell people his fingers were chopped off by slammed piano lid, he was actually born with a gene which prevented his fingers from growing past the first knuckle.

The gene is carried on his mother's side, with his siblings also carrying the condition.

Despite this, his grandmother taught him to play piano at age six, and it's led to a 32-year career.

''It wasn't a conscious thing,'' Healey said.

''I make quite a bit of my living with the piano, but it wasn't a torch to conquer the world with or anything.''

Healey may downplay the level of skill it takes to play with just two thumbs and shortened fingers, but he has become extremely adept at reading music, and adapting it to suit his hands.

It is tricky for his hands to spread the full length of some chords, but to the untrained ear, it's tough to tell the difference.

Healey's first festival this year is a result of his pairing with performer and festival regular Felicity Wills, aka Lili la Scala.

He and Wills have been performing together for about two years, but did not come to the last festival as Wills was pregnant. Healey was not actively seeking out la Scala, but was introduced to her through a mutual friend.

''It's the nature of the self-employed to look for variety,'' Healey said.

The pair are performing a cabaret act this year - a bit of a change from the burlesque Christchurch is used to seeing from Wills.

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- Fairfax Media

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