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Street Pianos Come to Boston, and BU

Public art project beckons novices, virtuosos alike

Boston Univesity By Arts Initiative, College of Fine Arts CFA, Boston Street Pianos, Play Me I'm Yours, pianos Charles river campus, Boston University School of Medicine, George Sherman Union Plaza

Lisa Goldstein (CAS’16) tickles the ivories in front of GSU on September 24. The piano is one of three installed at BU, two on the Charles River Campus and one on the Medical Campus, as part of the Play Me, I’m Yours street art project. Photo by Cydney Scott

When a working piano is placed on a public street with an invitation for anyone to play, a kind of magic ensues. From confident virtuosos leaning into Liszt to teenage sweethearts banging out a four-handed “Heart and Soul,” thousands have sat down at pianos in 36 cities around the world since the Play Me, I’m Yours public art project was launched in 2008. The feel-good street installation came to greater Boston this week, and 3 of the 75 pianos are based at BU—2 on the Charles River Campus and one on the Medical Campus.

Conceived by British artist Luke Jerram in the spirit of temporary urban works like the Cow Parade, which scattered colorful bovines around the city in summer 2006, the Play Me project has placed more than 900 pianos in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Sydney, Sao Paulo, London, and Hangzhou. The Boston leg of the project commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Celebrity Series of Boston, the nonprofit arts organization that has brought musicians, orchestras, chamber ensembles, and dance companies to concert halls around the city since 1938. The whimsically painted pianos (College of Fine Arts alumnae worked on the BU-based pianos) will be left outside, where passersby are asked to cover them with the tarps at each location if it starts to rain.

According to its website, which features an interactive map dotted with piano icons, the project has reached more than three million people worldwide, using old pianos that are donated and in turn given to charitable organizations when the projects end. At BU, pianos have been installed at the George Sherman Union Plaza, in front of the College of Engineering, next to Scoozi, and on the Medical Campus, in the yard between Harrison Avenue and Albany Street, according to Ty Furman, managing director of the Boston University Arts Initiative. Other pianos are outdoors at locations around Boston and Cambridge, including at the Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard University, the Prudential Center, and the Boston Arts Academy, an arts-centered public high school. The Street Pianos festival runs through October 14.

Boston Univesity By Arts Initiative, College of Fine Arts CFA, Boston Street Pianos, Play Me I'm Yours, pianos Charles river campus, Boston University School of Medicine,

A passerby picks out a tune on the BU Medical Campus piano, one of three BU-based pianos that are part of the citywide Play Me, I'm Yours public art installation. Photo by Sara Cody

Ashley Teamer (CFA’13) painted the piano in front of the GSU, Kathleen Kennedy (CFA’13) was the artist behind the one on the Medical Campus, and Elizabeth King (CFA’11) decorated the piano on the ENG plaza.

“The College of Fine Arts is a community of artists, so to have three School of Visual Arts alums asked to paint the three BU pianos, making a musical instrument their canvas, is a very powerful expression,” says Benjamin Juárez, dean of CFA. “It also speaks to the importance of bringing music out of the concert hall and into public spaces for all to enjoy. The premise of this series is so simple and lighthearted, and we are proud to be a part of that and to encourage the love of music. I hope the BU community gives in to the spontaneous desire to express oneself musically. In doing so, they will bring all of us a lot of joy.”

Local artists and a wide range of community-based organizations have decorated the other pianos. The goal is to encourage people to simply walk up and begin playing, so there is no need to sign up or reserve a spot in advance. And musicians are urged to tape their performance and upload it to the festival’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter account using the hashtag #streetpianosboston. The Celebrity Series plans to schedule several solo or ensemble performances.

“We are thrilled as a community, both the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus, to be a part of Street Pianos Boston,” says Furman. “BU has had a long-standing relationship with the Celebrity Series, and we are excited to see what the next 75 years brings for the series.”

Find updates about the festival here.

Link to an interactive map of locations here.

14 Comments
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

14 Comments on Street Pianos Come to Boston, and BU

  • Bonnie Pomfret on 09.27.2013 at 7:05 am

    I celebrate the accessibility to pianos, but regret the fact that these instruments will be destroyed after a month in the elements.

    • Jim in NOLA on 09.27.2013 at 7:54 pm

      Ah!! There’s always a Puddleglum in the bunch.

    • piano team on 09.28.2013 at 6:41 am

      the pianos have platic tarpaulins and are protected from the rain. after the event the pianos get donated to schools and community groups

  • marilyn on 09.27.2013 at 9:14 am

    What a wonderful and creative public arts project!!

  • PianoGuy on 09.27.2013 at 11:23 am

    This is awesome :D

  • Stephanie on 09.27.2013 at 1:10 pm

    It is nice that Boston has done this. This has been going on in Philadelphia for several years now.

  • jeff on 09.27.2013 at 1:37 pm

    This is great! Does anyone know how they keep these pianos protected from the elements?

    • Jim in NOLA on 09.27.2013 at 7:55 pm

      The article mentioned that people are asked to put tarps back on them when done. They will be gone before October ends. Doubt Boston will get any killer snowstorms before then.

      But ya’ never know.

    • Sonia on 09.29.2013 at 10:24 am

      I’ve walked past 2 during the night and they were covered in some white tarp.

  • Christie on 09.27.2013 at 3:15 pm

    I love walking down the street past these pianos and hearing the tunes. I think it’s wonderful- I wish these were out full year ’round.

  • Paolo Boccazzi on 09.27.2013 at 4:28 pm

    We should see the street pianos.

    Silvana

  • Andrea on 09.29.2013 at 3:54 pm

    More needs to be done like this to create awareness for future generations. Very creative and wonderful.

  • Erika on 10.02.2013 at 3:45 pm

    Really liked your focus on the Street Pianos Boston installation. It’s amazing how programs like this make the arts accessible in major cities! Sing for Hope did it this past summer in New York City, and there’s a great music video by pianist Gregg Kallor playing the 88 pianos placed around the five boroughs of NYC as part of the program! It’s a beautiful ode to these piano programs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qFwF8DKkwo

  • m Chamberlain on 10.03.2013 at 4:00 pm

    I miss BU and Brookline a great deal,love Mike!

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