Turning The Public Into Performers With 'Street Pianos' "Play Me I'm Yours" is an art installation in New York by British artist Luke Jerram. It features 60 painted pianos in parks, on sidewalks and on street corners, left for anyone to play. Though they sometimes sit idly, the pianos occasionally inspire average people to become street musicians.

Turning The Public Into Performers With 'Street Pianos'

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Well, you don't need a record-breaking low note to take part in this next music story. New York City is kicking off a new participatory art project. It's called the Street Pianos Project.

For two weeks, 60 pianos will be on the streets of New York for anyone to play. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER: There they are, a bunch of somewhat dinky-looking upright pianos painted by artists in all kinds of odd colors, sitting in parks, on sidewalks and on street corners. Sometimes, the pianos just sit there. Some people are a bit shy. Daniella Audut(ph) puts her fingers on the keys.

(Soundbite of piano)

Ms. DANIELLA AUDUT: Yeah, that's about it. I took music lessons back in, like, second grade, and I forgot everything.

ADLER: Another person says he's classically trained, but he needs his sheet music. But then there are people who completely lose themselves, like Nina Pike, a 20-year-old visitor from Virginia, who sits down in the middle of Times Square.

(Soundbite of piano)

ADLER: Are you improvising?

Ms. NINA PIKE: Yes, yeah, just out of my head.

ADLER: That's wonderful.

(Soundbite of music)

ADLER: Do you daydream while you improvise?

Ms. PIKE: Yeah, to play the songs I play, you have to put up a picture and make the music flow to what the picture made up.

ADLER: The Street Pianos Project was conceived by British artist Luke Jerram, who says he had the idea when visiting a Laundromat in Bristol, where he lives.

Mr. LUKE JERRAM (Artist): I was noticing I'd see the same people there every weekend, washing their underwear and just sitting there with a newspaper and iPods, you know, and no one was sort of talking with one another.

And I realized there must be all these invisible communities right across the city, people occupying the same space, and they'd recognize each other, you know, maybe at the train station or the bus station, but they wouldn't engage with one another. And I thought, well, maybe putting a piano into a space like that would shake things up and would act as a catalyst for conversation, and so far, it seems to be working.

ADLER: Jerram has placed pianos in nine cities, including London, Sidney and Barcelona. New York is the first U.S. city and the largest installation he's done. Jerram says he's a visual artist, and he doesn't read music, although he can play some simple blues.

(Soundbite of piano)

Mr. JERRAM: It turns ordinary people like me into street performers, and that's magical.

ADLER: He's been moving from piano to piano, watching what happens.

Mr. JERRAM: Yesterday I saw at the Lincoln Center an old lady playing the piano. She was playing Honky Tonk Blues. I thought that was pretty good. And then some Japanese students sort of sat up, and they wanted to have a go, but I don't think she was impressed by the amount of talent they had. So she started giving them piano lessons.

ADLER: High school student Kari Wei brought her voice, as well as her fingers, to one of the pianos at Lincoln Center.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KARI WEI (Student): (Singing) Where is your heart because I don't really feel you. Where is your heart? What I really want is to believe you.

Ms. WEI: Ive always, you know, sort of had the urge to whenever I see a piano play it. So the fact that they have them all over the city is just really convenient. So, I mean, Im kind of determined to sort of find all 60.

ADLER: Sometimes whole bands show up, like Danny Lipton(ph).

(Soundbite of music)

DANNY LIPTON (Music Group): (Singing) And it's hard to say just how some things never change, and it's hard to find any stretch to draw the line because I'm just burning, doing the neutron dance. I'm just burning, doing the neutron dance.

ADLER: At the end of the two weeks, the pianos will be give to schools and hospitals by the nonprofit Sing for Hope in the hope that playing and building community will continue.

Margot Adler, NPR News.

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