“Let’s keep an eye on this one. He could be a dark horse.” A South Auckland teen is wowing audiences and winning prizes with his prodigious talent after just two years at the keys.

Pele Gillies is a 13-year-old piano prodigy. He played piano for the first time when he was 11, in September 2019.

Music teacher Maree Munford was offering lessons at the country school Gillies went to at the time, Oromahoe, in the Bay of Islands. It was Gillies’ younger brother, who actually had the initial interest in piano. Pele just tagged along out of curiosity.

But Pele Gillies had a go, thought it was fun and took home a few exercises. He mastered the exercises with ease and was hooked. Gillies became an obsessive researcher of classical piano music, finding obscure and forgotten gems and discovering who his favourite composers were.

Munford introduced Gilles to Kerikeri piano matriarch Jill Cottle, who invited him to play at a concert at her house. The rather shy, introverted kid revelled in the occasion. Munford and Cottle arranged for a local supporter of the arts to sponsor Gillies so the cost of his lessons was covered.

In September 2020, Gillies took part in the Northland Performing Arts Competition Society’s piano contests. He finished second in the open category, first in a number of junior categories and won the cup for aggregate points in his age group.

Pele Gillies with his teacher, former concert pianist Justin Bird. Photo: Supplied 

He passed his grade five piano exam with an A+ and ‘high distinction’ and passed NCEA level 1 in music, with excellence.

This year, after three years living up north in Kawakawa, Gillies and his family are back living Manurewa.

Gillies is attending Manurewa High School. With a role of more than 2000 students it’s a lot busier than the country school he was attending at Oromahoe, but Gillies loves it there.

Just last week, he won a $3500 gifted learners award from the Ministry of Education to cover 35 lessons with Auckland teacher Justin Bird, a former concert pianist.

So did Gillies’ musical ability just come from nowhere? Not quite.

Gillies was already a gifted guitarist before he tried his hand at piano. First he proved himself to be a master at the Guitar Hero video game, to the extent where he could play tunes while holding the fake guitar behind his head. He quickly became a whizz on a real guitar, being able to shred like the super-quick heavy metal guitarists in a few months and was also writing his own tunes. It was then that his parents began to think, “Let’s keep an eye on this one. He could be a dark horse.”

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