End Note: Get Out and Play

Mike Lawson • Commentary • October 17, 2013

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One of the primary tenets of music and arts advocacy is getting the action out of the classroom and into the public eye. In addition to showcasing talents, creating awareness, and providing entertainment, public performance can also have a strong impact in terms of building community.

Take, for example, the growing “Play Me, I’m Yours” art installation, which has just made its way to Boston. Forgive me if you live in Cincinnati or New York or Omaha or Austin or one of the other lucky few cities across the country where this art installation is old news, but I’m pretty ecstatic about 75 pianos being planted in public spaces in neighborhoods around my hometown, decorated by local artists, inviting people to step up – or sit down, as it were – and be musical.

To date, more than 1,000 pianos have been placed in 37 cities worldwide through British artist Luke Jerram’s artistic initiative, which simply encourages passers-by to take a moment out of their day to play music, or to pause and listen as someone else plays. “The idea for ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ came from visiting my local launderette,” explains the artist on his website, www.streetpianos.com. “I saw the same people there each weekend and yet no one talked to one another. I suddenly realised [sic] that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence. Placing a piano into the space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation and changing the dynamics of a space.”

Undoubtedly, music is a catalyst for social interaction. So the question that springs to mind is: how can school music programs leverage and take advantage of this particularly wonderful affirmation of the arts? Is there some way your cadre of talented student musicians can provide a similar service of breaking down social barriers and sparking conversation?

Fortunately, some educators are ahead of the curve. Students and faculty from the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts have hosted two events in connection with “Play Me, I’m Yours.” Centered around the piano that has been placed outside of the school’s main entrance, the school’s “Sound of Music Sing-a-longs” were free and open to the public, with students and faculty from the music college inviting anyone who felt like coming by to join in singing some of the well-known songs from the hit musical.

Salt Lake City, Utah, hosted an installation of “Play Me, I’m Yours” last summer and the area is still reaping the residual rewards. In early September of 2013, The University of Utah reprised three of the pianos from the exhibit as a part of an “Arts Bash” hosted by the university’s School of Music. Dr. Michael Huff, executive program director of Legacy Music Alliance, a non-profit arts education organization which received a donation of seven of the pianos from the Salt Lake City art installation after it finished, said the partnership with the University of Utah “is a wonderful way for music to happen in unexpected ways and places. Placing pianos in people’s way instead of forcing folks to seek them out is a brilliant idea! I love the idea of music happening anywhere and everywhere – not just in concert halls.”

And one school has taken the initiative a step further, hosting its own version of the event. The Eaglebrook School in Deerfield, Massachusetts procured a piano, had students paint it, and then placed it under a tent on the school’s campus during the last week of the 2012-13 school year, inviting students to stop by and play. “Music proved to be a great antidote to the hectic pace of the final week,” notes a recap on the school’s website.

In an age where many music programs and institutions are fighting tooth and nail for funding, consider the lessons on music advocacy that can be gleaned from inspiring events like “Play Me, I’m Yours.”

Eliahu Sussman


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