Play Me, I’m Yours
It’s summer in New York. And on the streets of the city, sixty upright pianos, painted in coats of many colors by talented artists, sit on sidewalks and street corners for anyone to play. Above the din of buses, taxis, and cars, 5,280 keys turn public spaces into cabarets. I always have the urge, whenever I see a piano, to play it. And, there, on the terrace of the New York Public Library, I do.
Christo had The Gates. Olafur Eliasson had The Waterfalls. Luke Jerram has The Street Pianos. (http://www.lukejerram.com/biography) The Street Pianos Project was born in a Laundromat where Jerram saw that people pretty much kept to themselves.
Jerram doesn’t read music or see color, but he clearly relishes a blank canvas. He says, “ The pianos are out there to activate the public space for everyone’s creativity. I thought, well, maybe putting a piano into a space like that would shake things up and would act as a catalyst for conversation. So far, it seems to be working. It turns ordinary people like me into street performers, and that’s magical.”
He’s right, it IS magical. And this is not just for the Chopsticks crowd. You can see some YouTube gems at www.streetpianos.com/nyc2010 and read stories of how people connect around a keyboard. Like the two in Sydney who met at the piano and then got married. Here is Public Art that actually engages the Public in the making of Art. And, in this case, Music – a local cop belts out raucous tunes, the CVS cashier plays a soulful rendition of As Time Goes By – all under the watchful eyes of the “designated buddies” who lock, unlock and cover the pianos daily and the piano tuner who favors hazelnut gelato.
Jerram started bringing scores of pianos to skate parks, squares, zoos and bridges, ferries, plazas, bus shelters and post offices in 2008. He put 167 pianos in nine cities including London, Birmingham, Sao Paolo, Sydney and Barcelona. New York is his first and largest installation. More are coming to the US later this year. Look for them in Cincinnati, San Jose and Grand Rapids. They will be donated to schools and hospitals by the nonprofit group Sing for Hope in an effort to keep the playing and community-building alive.
NYC hosted my anniversary celebration in a big way – a boat trip around Manhattan, a night at the theater with the cast of Memphis, dinner at Lydia Bastianich’s Becco, gelato on Mulberry Street, a Vodka Watermelonade and popcorn in Bryant Park, a look at the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand, rare Picassos at the Met, even a very happy Parade.
I play the piano at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue in between Patience and Fortitude, the famous stone lions named by Fiorello La Guardia. (He named them after the qualities he thought essential for the citizens of New York in the throes of the Depression.) The song I play is For Your Love. My Big Handsome Guy takes pictures and is an all-around Good Sport. One day we walk up to 96th street, the next down to Canal, wending our way through Parks and Squares in search of yet another piano. As we wander, I finger my wedding ring, etched inside with Peace 6-26-70 and worn to a soft patina. And I think about Luke Jerram, how he etched his marriage proposal on the outside of his wife’s ring so that she can play it back using a miniature record player anytime she wants. Thanks, Luke Jerram, for sharing your creative genius with the rest of us.
So, what would you play if you stumbled upon a piano on your corner?
Leave us a comment. We’re all ears.
Mazel Tov, as we say in New York.