Street Pianos

The piano is heavy, weighing between 480 to 600 lbs (180–270 kg) for an upright one, up to 1,100 (500 kg) for a baby grand, and over 1,200 (540 kg) for a concert grand. How do you put these out in public?

Play Me I’m Yours (Photo by Luke Jerram)

Play Me I’m Yours (Photo by Luke Jerram)

The idea of Play Me, I’m Yours (PMIY) Art Project started in Birmingham, UK in 2008. Luke Jerram, creator of the idea, noted the places where people gathered but didn’t talk to each other. At the bus stop or sitting in a launderette, places were filled with people sitting silently, waiting. He wanted to start people talking, get them to interact, and to do that, he put a piano in the space. More people than expected had long-lost years of piano playing in their past and now, with access to a piano, a forgotten history came to life again.

In 2008, PMIY was never intended to be more than a one-off, with 15 pianos delivered to the streets of Birmingham. Over the next 5 years, however, PMIY expanded to 1,500 street pianos in 50 cities worldwide. In 2008, when they started, uprights pianos were readily available – most people no longer wanted their parents’ or grandparents’ pianos in their increasingly small apartments and PMYI was able to get pianos easily. This, unfortunately, is still the case, but PMIY has a note on their website that they can no longer take donations of pianos.

Piano at PMQ, Hong Kong, 2015 (Photo by PMQ)

Piano at PMQ, Hong Kong, 2015 (Photo by PMQ)

PMIY restored and tuned the pianos and decorated them, adding ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ to the keyboard cover. Or, ‘Jouez, Je Suis à Vous’, in Paris, or ‘Toca’m, sóc teu’ in Catalan for the Barcelona pianos. The decorations varied by piano and by city – in some cities, they were graffiti-tagged and in others, left more plain.

Moving a Piano in London, 2009 (Photo by Luke Jerram)

Moving a Piano in London, 2009 (Photo by Luke Jerram)

The Art Project comes to a town for two to three weeks and finds its music community – or rather, the music community finds the piano and creates a new community.

In London, for example, the comic piano duo Worbey & Farrell played 24 street pianos all over London. 4 hands playing 24 pianos in 8 hours – everywhere from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Carneby Street, housing estates to Oxford Street.

Worbey & Farrell play the streetpianos

Choir groups gathered or formed around the instruments, dancers took advantage of live music, and nascent composers tried out their latest compositions in public. Cindy Lauper showed up for the piano in Times Square. Songs from movies, songs from pop radio, hymns, and songs from a society’s musical past all came through the keyboard.

Play Me, I’m Yours Bristol 2009: Film by Benjie Croce

Play Me, I’m Yours London 2009: Film by Chiara Frisone & Azim Moollan

One of the interesting results of Jerram’s temporary art placements is that some of the pianos have stayed. One of the most famous ones is in London’s St. Pancras Station, in the arrivals area for the Eurostar trains. Amateur pianist Denis Robinson went viral when Ceili O’Connor, then singing in Cats, joined him in St. Pancras for some songs.

There are now two pianos at St Pancras, one donated by Sir Elton John in 2016, and, as of 2019, there were 34 pianos on station concourses around the country. The piano at London Road Station in Brighton was installed in 2014 and gets such good use that it has been replaced at least twice.

Now, of course, in the UK, there’s the series The Piano, which records performers on the public pianos and then has them compete in a final concert. It’s up to series 2 right now!

What’s the end result of this art project? People have been emboldened to strut their musical stuff, find friends in music, and, in some cases, meet and get married over the piano. PMIY is one way of bringing music out of the front parlour and into the public, helping people find friends in their neighbourhoods, and, above all, proving your mother right when she said ‘Practice, practice, practice!’.

For more of the best in classical music, sign up for our E-Newsletter

More Blogs

Leave a Comment

All fields are required. Your email address will not be published.