(The Above Photo Added because Tianana’s comment reminded me of one of the funniest moments she and I shared with me at a piano)
So a while back I discovered Street Pianos or the Play Me I’m Yours project. It was started by a British artist, Luke Jerram. You can find out about it here. The first time I was aware of it was when someone posted this video on Facebook. I was captivated. Not just the fact that the guy playing is doing a good job but the whole thing. The painted piano, the public location, the inherent generosity of shared art, the immense courage to sit down and play music in a public space, and most of all the overwhelming joy of unexpected art and music. It’s a quieter, more personal (and less commercial) version of the well-rehearsed but still incredibly joyful dancing flash mobs. Check out all the smiles on the people in the crowd during the flash mob. It’s wonderful.
The thing I find fascinating is how riveted I am by the whole thing and how emotional I get watching the videos. It speaks to something deep inside me, something very personal, eliciting very strong feelings from me.
I grew up in a house where music was played and studied and celebrated. My brother and I were expected to play music, and we did. Various instruments at various times in our lives. My Dad was a musician. I’ve come to realize that the way we experienced music growing up was not necessarily super normal. By that I mean music wasn’t just for the professionals. Music was something everyone could and should participate in to some degree. You might not be great at it, but that wasn’t the point. The point was you should know how to play some music. As a result of that the casual playing of the piano was constant in our house. It was what my Dad did when he was waiting for the rest of us to finish getting ready to go somewhere. It was what you did when you came home from school. It was what you did when you discovered a new pop artist that played piano. It was, quite simply, something you did just like everything else you did…read a book, watch TV, clean your room, play some music, get ready for bed.
Historically music, and many forms of fine art, were something that everyone practiced. Everyone learned to make some music. Everyone learned to draw and paint a little. Everyone learned to dance. Everyone learned to do a dramatic reading. Everyone, dear god everyone, attempted poetry. This kept art, music, creativity in general, within the grasp of everyone. Most importantly it allowed for everyone to connect with themselves and others in a creative space…it made the home a creative space.
But something happened when we gained the ability to record art in various ways. As a society we gave away our active participation in music and art to the professionals. We stopped practicing music and dance and art ourselves and became an often distant and intimidated audience only. I remember at the age of 5 or 6 being asked by a teacher to draw a picture that would show what my Dad did for a living. I clearly remember saying, “OK, but I’m not good at drawing.” I also vividly remember that picture. It wasn’t so bad for a kindergartner using Crayons. It included my Dad complete with mustache and glasses with a pretty decent Apollo rocket in the background. But my Go-To response, even that young, was to lead with a qualification that it wouldn’t be very good. I feel like this is something that has invaded our society much to our detriment.
So I think that is one reason why the Street Pianos move me so much. I’m sure lots of people sit down at them and do not play anything wonderful. I’m sure the videos I’ve posted are videos because they were impressive. But the truth is the most impressive thing about them is that while one or two of them might be people who make their living playing music, there are many that are just regular people who play music. They are musicians because they play music, not because they get paid to do it. The Street Pianos create an opportunity for music to happen in an unexpected place at the hands of…well maybe that homeless guy, or those two guys in Liverpool, or these two guys in Paris.
It just feels like a good and powerful example of how close art and music always is…all we have to do is reach out for it, put our hands on it, stop comparing our ability to anyone else’s ability, and stop judging ourselves and others so harshly.
Sometimes I wonder if we were a more courageous and compassionate people when we regularly practiced the courage and compassion of art in our own homes.