Renowned classically trained pianist, composer and teacher Nat Yontararak, holder of the Silpathorn award and Thailand’s first Steinway Artist, says his first encounter with music was Jesus Loves Me, a hymn his mother used to sing as a lullaby. “As a child, I also attended Sunday school where we all had to sing along,” he says. Being immersed in music was something that brought him great joy and happiness as a boy.
His piano lessons began when he was a nine-year-old lad, not in some fancy music school but in the comfort of his own home. Before he actually took classes with a proper piano teacher, his first lessons were taught by his cousin. “I struck a deal with her and traded salty plums in exchange for piano lessons,” he reminisces with a laugh. It wasn’t long before Nat was able to play a couple of short songs. From that day on, music and the piano became his lifetime companions.
Fresh out of high school, Nat won first prize at the 1971 First Siam Music Festival, receiving a Yamaha piano. But in view of the fact that in those days classical music was not so popular in Thailand and music faculties were scarce, he wound up studying something entirely different. “I was fortunate to have been accepted to the Faculty of Architecture at Chulalongkorn University,” he says. Though he thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter, his desire to play the piano never diminished. After much dedication and hard work, Nat was able to pass Trinity College of Music’s exam, earning its highest diploma. He was the first person from Thailand to obtain it.
While still a student at Chulalongkorn, Nat’s father, who was the manager of the YMCA at the time, organised a charity concert that served as a recital debut for the gifted pianist. After finishing his studies at Chulalongkorn, Nat went on to get a bachelor’s degree in music from Goldsmith College, London University, and a master’s degree in performance at Reading University. It was during this period that he secured the patronage of Princess Sudasiri Sobha, who he had the privilege of teaching piano.
Even when one is blessed with god-given talent, hard work and perseverance are still crucial. Understanding this and striving to better himself, Nat used to rehearse up to eight hours a day. Basking in the fruits of his hard work, today he is not only widely recognised as a piano virtuoso but also as the founder of the Nat Studio & Nat Music School inaugurated in the mid-1980s. Decades later, combining his passion of music and understanding in architecture, he would also establish the Rama V era-inspired Sala Sudasiri Sobha, a concert hall dedicated to his patron and aimed at providing more opportunities for performances. “It is so much more than just a concert hall,” he says. “To me, it is a venue that creates joy, a place where people who share the same interest come together as one. With our open-door policy and our Sudasiri Sobha fund, it is a place where we can help others, support talented youth in their musical endeavours and spread the kind of help as the princess gave to me to help me get where I am today.”
Despite his achievements as a musician and the fulfillment of his dream to open his own school and concert hall, one of the greatest aspects of life for Nat is having the ability to touch others with music. “Whenever I can make people truly feel the music and ignite some inner passion through my compositions or the music I play, this means a lot to me,” he says. And his proudest moment as a musician was a performance for Their Majesties King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, which instilled in him a feeling of incomparable honour. “I remember this as if it were yesterday,” he says. “As His Majesty walked past the line of performers, he stopped to address me and said the piece—Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy—was difficult but you did it well.”
Nat can truly count his blessings. It is not every day people get to live their dreams and make a career out of their passions. He also enjoys much support from his wife and three children, all of whom are budding pianists. Having been a student in architecture, it comes as no surprise that an alternative career choice would have been an architect. “Music is after all, an architecture of sound,” he smiles. “If I could do anything else, I would love to be an architect designing and creating buildings from which people would not want to leave.”