Hong Kong 'street piano' project ready to raise spirits and unite city

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 August, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 August, 2015, 4:02pm

An internationally acclaimed street piano project has landed in Hong Kong, with organisers pledging it will raise spirits and bring society together.

A city-wide campaign, "Our Hong Kong, Our Talents - Play Me, I'm Yours", was launched yesterday offering free access to pianos for performers and listeners in public locations from Central to Tin Shui Wai over the next four months. Hong Kong is now the 48th city in the world to host this community art project since it was founded by British artist Luke Jerram in 2008.

"It's time for Hong Kong to have some fun," said Eva Cheng, executive director of the Our Hong Kong Foundation, an organiser of the event.

"Music is the best common language at a time when everybody has different views on everything. So let's put everything aside and enjoy some music," she added.

The launch at PMQ yesterday featured 16 pianists of different musical genres and walks of life, from lawyers to a nine-year old school pupil. Each played a piano decorated by local designers.

"We'd like to kick off the first phase here in Central for pianists and the public to get familiar with piano playing in the open and thus generate momentum," said Victor Tsang, executive director of PMQ, the other organiser.

"The 16 pianos will go to various parts of the city in November. By December, the Christmas atmosphere will take the event to a grand finale," he added.

He estimated some 900,000 would try their hand at a piano, making for the highest participation level in the seven-year history of "Play Me, I'm Yours".

Sheryl Lee, one of the 16 pianists and the mastermind behind the Hong Kong project, said the biggest challenge was not a lack of talent but time. "We have a lot of talent here and I wish more would devote their time to music or crossover arts," she said.

But some of the city's busiest professionals were there to show support.

“We barristers need passion for things outside of the law that make our life more complete,” said Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam, who was one of the 16 pianists playing at the launch.

Bonny Wong, director of the CEO office of West Kowloon Cultural Authority and another pianist at the launch, said “piano playing provides a relaxed moment and makes all the difference from a routine of documents and meetings otherwise.”

Chris Babida, an award-winning composer of 50 original film scores, raved about the “precious”chance yesterday to play under the sun, a first experience for the studio-based music producer.“I feel like getting together with the world,”he said.

Other professional pianists at the launch shared the fun but harboured different expectations of the campaign.

“I was very pleased to see my fellow citizens were so peaceful and really focused on the music we played in Mong Kok,” said Colleen Lee Ka-ling, the city’s only award-winner at the renowned International Chopin Piano Competition, of the pre-launch kick-off performance in the pedestrian zone on Sunday.

“What I saw was a multitude of people who didn’t know each other but yet listened intently to the music, which has no boundary and can break hurdles among people,” she added.

But for another participating pianist Wong Ka-jeng, whose musical growth was featured in the award-winning documentary KJ: Music and Life, fun and politics are two separate things.

“I think those two are separate issues. Music will be a great entertainment. But whether it will unify people again, I don’t know, and I don’t think there is any political story to this event,” he said.

But for another former piano prodigy Warren Lee, the campaign could strike a different chord in the way music was presented.

“This event features music brought to live rather than at concert halls or any formal setting. Music-making can be done anywhere. It’s time to re-package music in the 21st Century,” said the music director of St Paul’s Co-educational College.

“Our job as musicians is to bring a smile to people’s face, forget about the temporary worries, and just to have fun for the moment. Hopefully we can do that in the middle of the city,” he added.

9 year old Grace Cheung, the youngest of the 16 pianists, hoped to become a career musician like the rest of the ensemble she performed together at the launch.

“I’m not nervous and am ready to perform,” she said.

Her mother said piano playing provided the girl with a cultured disposition and self-discipline in managing her study and music.

“I would still support her even if she chooses music over a medical career in the future as long as she is happy about it,” she said.