Outdoor pianos are certainly popular these days. This trend is largely thanks to Luke Jerram, a British artist who created the project, Play Me, I’m Yours. Since 2008, Play Me, I'm Yours has installed over 1500 pianos in more than fifty cities around the world. Jerram says of his project, "Questioning the rules and ownership of public space Play Me, I'm Yours is a provocation, inviting the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment."
It certainly transforms a space. Thisshort film reveals what happens to a particular space with the introduction of the “People’s Piano.” What I find most moving in this film is the smiles that Giles describes, the introduction of unexpected, magical moments into everyday life, in a setting like this – a subway entrance – where the magical and musical doesn’t typically occur.
This magical quality is one of the reasons sound designer and vocalist Viviane Houle chose to incorporate outdoor pianos into the upcoming Only Animal Theatre production of Tinkers in Roberts Creek, BC.
From their website:
Tinkers is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Paul Harding. This new transcendentalist work features an intimate and dazzling relationship with the natural world, woven into a story of family karma. Through an intergenerational story we meet a young boy and his search for his long-lost father Howard, the epileptic peddler with donkey and wagon, estranged from his family, and ever-ecstatic in his relationship with nature. Tinkers asks us how we collect together all the pieces of a relationship that has come apart, and tinker, tinker to bring it together again.
With a growing set crafted by German environmental art star, Cornelia Konrads, an off-grid sound score and puppets made from found materials, Tinkers looks at how people creating in nature exemplify the transcendent possibilities of Human Nature.
Literally set in the woods, this “roving forest immersion” features a completely off-the-grid sound design. This is no easy task. Without the use of any recorded sound, amplification, electricity or batteries, how would you create the sound of car tires on a gravel road? How about the sound of the motor?
One of my challenges in connection with the show is going to be tuning the piano later this week. In an outdoor environment, it’s not possible for a piano to stay in tune very long – consider the humidity during an afternoon rainshower compared to that during a cool, clear summer night. My goal will be the same as always: make the piano sound the best it can.
The People’s Piano had the good fortune of being on one piano technician’s route to work. This guy couldn’t help but stop and offer it a little TLC now and then. But despite how out of tune it may be, people are compelled to play or drawn to listen. For many, an out of tune piano simply sounds like an old piano, and this is evocative – haunting, even magical.
Regardless of your sound associations, I’m certain Tinkers will be a magical theatre experience!
Tinkers runs from July 25 to August 7, 2016. Learn more by visiting http://www.theonlyanimal.com/show/tinkers.
And to see more super-cool outdoor pianos, courtesy of Play Me, I'm Yours, check out this list!
In a recent article in the New York Times, "The Only Piano I Could Afford," Micah Dean Hicks tells the sad, funny little story of trying to give a piano to his wife. Neither had a enough money to buy a new piano, and even many of the used ones available in music stores were far outside their price range. He searched on Craiglist and at flea markets, and soon found a piano for cheap. According to its owner, some of the keys were stuck but the "wood looked fine." Hicks did a little research and quickly discovered that stuck keys are not a big problem for a piano technician to repair. He rented a vehicle and went to retrieve the beast.
Can you guess what happens next? After the cost of the piano, the cost of the vehicle rental, which was higher than anticipated, and the time and effort to move the piano in, his wife discovered it was unplayable with all those sticky keys. No problem. They call a piano technician to come fix it. He opens his tool case. He opens the piano up. He closes his tool case. Sorry folks. Rusted, corroded pins and strings, water damaged pinblock, an untuneable waste of money and effort.
It's a sad little story and not a unique occurrence. There are sometimes pianos available for free on Craigslist -- I peruse the ads, myself, hoping to find a worthwhile fixer-upper. I've checked out some of these free pianos, and if it's tuneable and the sound is decent, then you've got yourself a workable instrument, regardless of how fine the "wood" looks. Beauty is on the inside, after all, so forget the finish -- how do the pins feel? How do the hammers look? What shape are those dampers in? Is the soundboard cracked?
Not sure how to assess those things? Before committing the time and expense to moving a piano, feel free to ask me to check it out first! I could confirm you've got a gem, or advise you to keep looking and save you a lot of hassle and heartbreak. Or, if you've got a piano to give away, avoid bad karma by making sure you've got a workable instrument.
Hicks pushed the piano out into the parking lot, alongside the garbage. For Hicks, the experience meant much more than a bad piano: "In our relationship it seemed as if we never were able to give each other the things we needed, and a few years later I filed for divorce, throwing our marriage out too." In this situation, I might have recommended an upcycling project. Who knows. Maybe a piano-desk might have saved the marriage?