by LUCI DISANO
First-Year GD Clarinet
People that might have never touched a piano in their life, they have the option to touch one, play one, see how it sounds and feels… – Shane Simpson
What do a baby, a singer-songwriter, and a classical pianist have in common? No, this isn’t the beginning of a bad joke. Many of you may have noticed or even played on the painted piano that was installed outside NEC for the first two weeks of October. This piano was just one of 75 pianos installed throughout the city as part of The Street Pianos Boston Festival presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. The installation is an artwork created by British artist Luke Jerram, called “Play Me I’m Yours!” First seen in the United Kingdom in 2008, Jerram’s work has toured internationally, appearing in Paris, London, Barcelona, and other cities worldwide.
Though the installation “tours,” the pianos do not. Each of the 75 pianos seen throughout Boston was transformed by a different local artist. So, what would the world be like if there were a piano on every street corner? As it turns out, the answer is: Really fantastic. The beauty of this festival is that the pianos are free and available for absolutely anyone to use. There were some scheduled professional performances, but most of the time anyone on the street could simply walk up and play. Kids all over the city could be seen plunking out a few notes, discovering the piano for the first time. Amateur pianists had a chance to try their hands at Chopsticks or Für Elise for a captive audience. And often, someone would sit down and stun crowds with their unexpected piano talent.
Jerram’s piece aims to foster collaboration and community. It has done that and so much more. The pianos provided venues for emerging artists to be seen. Singer-songwriter Caitlin Timmins even recorded a live music video of her song, “Stop, Rewind, & Pause” on the piano at City Hall Plaza. Strangers on Newbury Street crowded around for a singalong of “Sweet Caroline.” And during one particularly rainy afternoon, a crowd braved the weather to gather around for an impromptu performance of the Super Mario Theme by EMI Artist Niu Niu, who stopped by before a live taping of “From the Top” with Chrisopher O’Riley.
NEC students Shane Simpson and Linda Numagami performed together on a piano that was installed at the MFA. Since Shane is a jazz major and Linda is a classical major, they performed an arrangement of “It’s Only a Paper Moon” for viola and piano. When asked what it was like to perform on the MFA piano, which was decorated with a larger-than-life painter’s easel, Shane said he found it a bit “bizarre” at first, but thought it was fun to perform for people who might not otherwise get to experience live music. Both agreed that the community aspect of the festival is in large part what makes it so rewarding. By bringing pianos out into the open air, people who might not otherwise have access to live music can witness it up close, and artists have the opportunity to interact with their audience on a more personal level that isn’t necessarily possible in a concert hall.
In an explanation of the installation, Luke Jerram offers the following:
The idea for “Play Me, I’m Yours” came from visiting my local launderette. I saw the same people there each weekend and yet no one talked to one another. I suddenly realized that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence. Placing a piano into the space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation and changing the dynamics of a space.
Thank you, Celebrity Series, for helping us break the silence and bring our art to the community around us.