Oct 042013

Some people have really gotten into the mood, with, for instance, an Elton John impersonator wearing a Union Jack rocking out on Castle Island.

By Debra Cash

Mother Nature likes pianos.

She must, because since the Celebrity Series launched the feel-good public art event “Play Me, I’m Yours” by setting up seventy-five upright pianos in seventy-five Boston (and Cambridge and Somerville) area locations to celebrate its 75th anniversary September 27, the weather mostly has been glorious.

That means that the friendly “piano minders,” the neighborhood men and women from local stores, libraries, nonprofits, and schools, ready at a moment’s notice to roll down a rain tarp or call for backup when there’s a problem with a wobbly leg on a piano bench, have been able to sit back and enjoy the music.

And music there has been. From the professionals outside the area’s music schools who show off their jazz or classical music chops and use Facebook to let their friends know about informal outdoor concerts, to the kids who are just working their way through “Row Row Row Your Boat,” and even the complete musical novices who use the opportunity to belly up to the piano keyboard and press a few keys, Celebrity Series staff say that the response has been overwhelming.

Artist Luke Jerram anticipated it would be this way. The Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Fine Print Research at the University of West of England, Jerram has seen versions of his Street Piano project installed from Sydney to Los Angeles, and in every situation the pianos’ pull creates fresh civic engagement, with both music and with strangers met along the way. While musical performance is the most obvious outcome — and it’s been nice to be walking down the street and suddenly hear some boogie-woogie unexpectedly coming around the bend — Boston participants have used the pianos as the subject of photo essays and music videos, some of which have been uploaded to the Street Pianos website, organized by location.

Some people have really gotten into the mood, with, for instance, an Elton John impersonator wearing a Union Jack rocking out on Castle Island.

Elton John

An Elton John impersonator doing his thing.

Happily, what the piano buddies haven’t had to deal with is vandalism. With decorations chosen to be neighborhood appropriate (I particularly like the one near the Chinatown gate painted by the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center that features a panda on the upper panel, and the tree growing out of the top of the piano decorated by students from Burke High School Dorchester installed at the Franklin Park Zoo), the pianos are generally being treasured, not abused. As Celebrity Series Development Associate Melody Pao explained recently, people are less likely to “doodle” on pianos that are already appreciated as art objects.

“We’ve gotten several notes from pianists who can’t afford or don’t have the room for pianos in their own homes,” Celebrity Series programmer and Street Pianos Boston producer Margo Saulnier noted “and some come every day.”

The Celebrity Series Kickoff Party is October 5.

Debra Cash has reported, taught and lectured on dance, performing arts, design and cultural policy for print, broadcast and internet media. She regularly presents pre-concert talks, writes program notes and moderates panels and events sponsored by World Music/CRASHarts, Wesleyan Center for the Arts and venues throughout New England. A former Boston Globe and WBUR dance critic, she received a 2012 Creative Arts Award from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute for a new poetry project.

c 2013 Debra Cash


Read more by Debra Cash

Follow Debra Cash on Twitter

Email Debra Cash

 Leave a Reply