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Pianos begging to be played in Melbourne streets

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 4:14pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 4:14pm

Imagine stepping out of your front door to find that, overnight, a brightly painted piano has turned up in the street. What's more, it's wearing a sign that says "Play Me, I'm Yours", and passers-by stop to do just that. There is even the occasional sing-along.

That's the reaction organisers of a quirky summer event in Melbourne are hoping for because this has already happened in 37 other cities, from Hangzhou to New York, in which more than 1,000 pianos have popped up in the past four years.

The pianos have acted as matchmakers: couples in Sydney and London who met at pianos have since married. And while the aim is that anyone can play, the pianos also have been star makers. A homeless Italian pianist who played at St Pancras Station each day was spotted by a producer and has made his first album. Another player so impressed the City of London that he was given the Canary Wharf piano - and has since made the finals of Britain's Got Talent.

Melbourne's "Play Me, I'm Yours" will see 20 pianos installed around the city from Thursday until January 27, to encourage spontaneous playing. It's the latest incarnation of the project devised by British artist Luke Jerram in his local laundromat. "I saw the same people there each weekend and yet no one talked to one another. I suddenly realised 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 the space," Jerram says.

The pianos have been played by famous musicians, often creating impromptu street concerts, some of which have been filmed and gone viral. But Jerram says he hopes they will also entice hidden musicians out of the woodwork.

"It has become apparent there are thousands of pianists out there who don't have regular access to a piano. 'Play Me, I'm Yours' provides access to this wonderful musical instrument and turns ordinary musicians who play at home into street performers," he says.

The project is funded by local philanthropist Betty Amsden, who has given AUS$1 million for four years of Arts Centre Melbourne public participation projects.

The project began with a call for donations of unwanted pianos. Creative producer Patrick Cronin says they were offered 60 and the 24 selected are now being decorated by community groups. "In January when people are walking round the streets of Melbourne they are going to be seeing and hearing these beautifully decorated objects on the streets," he says.

"One of our aims is that it takes people out of their everyday lives. We hope they may hear a few notes and it is just a happy moment."

The pianos have been professionally tuned and the tuner will tour the city to ensure they stay that way. And when the curtain comes down, each group that decorated a piano gets to keep it.

The groups range from Arts Projects Australia, which involves intellectually disabled people in the arts, to schools, youth groups and the Chao Feng Orchestra, Australia's oldest Chinese ensemble.

Cronin says that, as well as spontaneous playing, in other cities some musicians have filmed themselves playing every piano, editing the snippets into YouTube clips. But he doesn't see a problem with professionals dominating what is intended as a community event.

Jerram too is not bothered by this trend: "From my understanding most people don't play the piano in order to make a YouTube film," he says. "I believe most encounters with the piano aren't filmed or photographed."

He says that since the project began, the number of people carrying phones with cameras has dramatically increased, and as a result, many people do document their experience. On the street, the camera held by a stranger, filming a pianist, can become a barrier between the two people.

"But the film [also] lets everyone know the pianos have arrived and are there for people to play. So in some ways the cameras also act as a bridge," Jerram says.

Information, maps, videos and stories at; Melbourne's "Play Me, I'm Yours", pianos


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