Life is a Circus

Public Pianos Have People Playing Anywhere, Anytime

Over the last few years, pianos placed in public to be played by anyone have become ubiquitous.

We’ve already told you the story of Paul Barton, who dragged a piano into the jungle to play music for abused elephants. Carting a piano into the wild is no mean feat. But after 400 years of making music everywhere from concert halls to living rooms, the venerable instrument has found yet another place of employment. More and more, pianos have been appearing in outdoor locations, in cities around the world. It’s all part of a movement to bring more music to the public.  

The public piano movement may have started in 1995 in Joshua Tree, California, when a local artist named Piano Bob (AKA Bob Fenger) donated a piano to the community. His goal was to let anyone who was interested play the piano whenever they felt like it. 

Or it may have begun in a more accidental manner, in Sheffield, England, in 2006, when a man who bought a piano simply couldn’t get it into his new home. As an experiment, he left it on the street for passersby to play. And a great many did, for many years, until the piano, left exposed to the elements, fell apart. 

This spontaneous act may well have inspired the British artist Luke Jerram to start the “Play Me, I’m Yours” movement in 2008. Jerram has installed more than 2000 pianos in more than 70 cities around the world, decorated by local artists and community groups, and bearing the message “play me, I’m yours.” The idea is simple: public pianos are an invitation to communities and individuals to share their love of music and the visual arts. 

The movement took hold in Montreal, Cirque du Soleil’s home town, when two public pianos were placed in the city’s Plateau Mont-Royal district in 2012. Local musician Patrick Watson was the first to play one of them. Since then, many more pianos have appeared in neighborhoods throughout the city. 

Indeed, the movement has become so popular that the site lists 6,652 pianos that can be played by the public, on every continent around the world.  

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