In Istanbul's Taksim Square, Cue The Piano Man

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Amid the protests and clashes in Istanbul's Taksim Square, a pianist has been hauling in his instrument at night to entertain the crowds. Each time he does, the raucous crowd stills itself while he plays. In between tunes, chants rise up and he stands on his piano bench to conduct the crowd.


In Turkey, a large contingent of government security forces cleared Istanbul's Gezi Park after firing tear gas and water cannons on protesters there. There was very little resistance, although many say they'll return.

To the outside world, Turkey's antigovernment demonstrations have been dominated by conflict. At least five people have died so far. But there have been less turbulent moments during the protests, moments of solidarity and even comfort, such as the night a traveling musician brought a mood of gentle contemplation to a tense crowd.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has this story from Taksim Square.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It seemed like a bizarre funhouse mirror image of the usual scene in Taksim Square. Riot police ringed the memorial to the modern Turkish Republic, shields at the ready, while a mass of protesters surrounded them. Those on the edge of the crowd strained to see what it was all about. Then everyone exhaled because they could hear what it was all about.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Hallelujah.

KENYON: As the tension seemed to drain out of the square, Boran, a young demonstrator born in Ankara but now living in Sweden, said the music reminded him that while the grievances against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are real, this all started as a peaceful protest.

BORAN: I see how Tayyip Erdogan acts to his public. He wants to decide how many children we're going to have, when we should drink alcohol or what we should do. And we are real mad at him. Actually, we want peace, and it sounds like peace.


KENYON: Between songs, the crowd reverts to its favorite chants. And the pianist Davide Martello, occasionally stands on his bench to conduct them. Martello is from Germany and says he's traveling to major cities to play impromptu concerts. He came here, he says, to relax the people's minds with music.

DAVIDE MARTELLO: The reason why I'm here is that I want to inspire the politics and make better politics. So you have to speak with each other, and then after, they can make compromises.


KENYON: For a crowd this young, these songs would seem to be antiques, elevator music. But in this setting, says one young Kurdish protester, they can still work their magic.

GULRO: My name is Gulro. It should be like this. It's a peaceful protest. It should stay as a peaceful protest.

KENYON: Saturday night, the protesters were driven from the park by the largest police operation to date. Many demonstrators vowed to return, suggesting that it may be sometime before there's another moment like last Thursday in Taksim Square, when harmony and goodwill felt close enough to touch.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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