I grew up in a musical household. My mother played piano and sang, and both of my parents loved classical music. I was lucky to have a piano and take lessons, even though I complained that it took away from my time to play outside with my friends. My next door neighbors also had a piano. It was a huge “player-piano” painted in bright kelly green. It was great fun going next door and singing and dancing to the music from that piano. In my adult life, music has also been very important to me and I have been involved in musical theater performances and various chorus and singing events. So, as a surprise on our anniversary one year, my husband bought me a “baby grand” piano so that I could practice and have live piano music in our home. I am still quite lucky to have a piano.
What if I didn’t have access to a piano as a child?
Would my musical soul still have shone through? The truth is, I’m not sure it would have. In today’s world, it is much less common for households to be able to enjoy a piano. The cost of a piano, the upkeep of tuning and repairs and the space that a piano needs make owning one a luxury that many families can’t afford.
Public Art Pianos
When I heard about public or “street” pianos, I pictured some broken down old piano in a grimy alley somewhere. However, when I heard that Roswell would be getting a public piano, I had to find out more about it. Yes, I googled it. Apparently, the idea of a street piano is huge in Europe, but fairly new here in the states. I was also fascinated to find out that public pianos can be works of art. Artists will use the piano as their canvas to paint on, so that when the piano is put outside it will attract folks to come and look at it and sit down and play. How interesting!
I contacted Kelly Brett, the Executive Director of the non-profit Play Me Again Pianos here in Atlanta. I had lots of questions for her: http://playmeagainpianos.org
- Who plays the public pianos? Kelly said that everyone can play the pianos. You can be any age and you don’t need to sign up anywhere, plus it’s first come/first serve. The pianos that are located in a park or playground attract children, of course. She said that it’s common to have a line form near the piano, since many want a turn. Sometimes she sees parent and grandparents showing children how to play, which makes the piano a real multi-generational bonding experience. Musical groups can also be seen using the piano, (even shooting a video with the piano as a featured piece of art!). Lunch may also be a musical event, as Kelly said that she has seen office workers near the Ponce City Market piano sitting down and playing during their lunch breaks.
- Can events be planned around the piano? Definitely. Mini performances crop up all the time, but Kelly said that one piano school actually planned their recital at a public piano at Chastain Park. I can also picture sing-a-longs scheduled for families in the park. Possibly a piano teacher could plan “open piano” mornings for children to introduce them to the instrument.
- How are the pianos kept up? Kelly explained that Play Me Again Pianos is responsible for the tuning and upkeep of these public pianos. She said that it costs about $500/yr. for each piano and as a non-profit they take donations to help with these costs. Right now they have plenty of people who will donate the pianos, but the need to care for them is quite important. Here in Georgia, the main problem is humidity (the keys can stick due to the felt under them getting moist). The pianos are always placed in a shelter wide enough to protect them from the rain (even our Georgia “sideways” rain). They need to be serviced quarterly, especially when there is a big weather change, so that they will be in tune and kept playable. Kelly said that they are recruiting Piano Stewards for each piano to check on the keyboard on a regular basis and wipe down the instrument. For a music lover, this seems like a worthy volunteer position.
- Are there any problems with vandalism of the pianos? Absolutely none of the pianos have been vandalized. According to an expert on Urban Research, these pianos create a real feeling of community ownership and therefore are respected and treated quite well.
- How are the locations chosen for a piano? Kelly said that they used to have to scout for locations for their pianos, but now they have more requests than opportunities to place them. Roswell’s will be number 19 that they have placed and they are working on number 20. Eventually, they plan to have a total of 88 public pianos throughout the metro Atlanta area. As far as the pianos that they use, they cannot do a full upright piano, as its too difficult to move, so they stick to a studio upright size, or smaller (depending on the location).
I’m so glad that I found out more information about the new public piano that will be coming to East Roswell Park this summer. Please stay tuned for my next blog about the Artists, Amol Saraf and his wife, Alpana who are currently completing the painting for this new piece of artwork/musical instrument.