The Unbearable Banishment: Play me: 5,288 keys

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Play me: 5,288 keys

Play Me*, I'm Yours is the installation by British artist Luke Jerram. It follows a successful run in London. Jerram gathered 60 used pianos and placed them in parks, plazas and on street corners throughout the five boroughs. Anyone can walk up, sit down and bang out a tune.

This is one of two pianos in Times Square. It was smack dab in the middle on an island on Broadway and 47th Street.

All 60 pianos were painted by volunteers. Each piano has its own distinctive design. One of them was painted by Sophie Matisse, granddaughter of Henri Matisse. (Not this one.) The pianos are protected from theft by being tethered to big cinder blocks. That, and the fact that they're pianos.

I thought it was going to be a lot of people just plonking away at the keys but most of the people I heard play seemed to be quite accomplished. There were dozens of brief concerts in a wide variety of music styles. For free!

This piano was painted a boring battleship gray. Not very imaginative at all.

But it was in a great location. Right behind the New York Public Library's stone lion, Patience. (Or is that Fortitude? They all look alike to me.)

The paint job on this one was also nothing to marvel at. They placed it in a playground in Madison Square Park. This piano took a lot of abuse. Many of the kids were playing with their balled-up fists. But what can you expect?

Of the several I saw, this was clearly the most imaginative paint job. It had a great location, too; at the southern end of Times Square.

In what other city can you stumble upon this unlikely pair of strangers—a young Japanese guitar player and an old black piano player—and watch them find their way through a quiet song, all with the warm, summer Times Square night swirling around them? This town is pure magic, I tell you.

* Every time I stumble across one of these pianos and see the exhibit name painted on the side, I get Neil Diamond's Play Me in my head as an unwanted earworm. This is courtesy of my mother, who played Diamond's Moods album constantly when I was a kid.

You are the sun
I am the moon
You are the words
I am the tune
Play me



Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

How cool is that! I only know a couple of very simple songs on the piano... despite having a music teacher for a mother!

I heard "Play Me" in my head too... ;-)

July 4, 2010 at 1:21 AM  
Blogger Zen Mama said...

God how I love that you chronicle my favorite place on earth for me. Also, I want to be there so desperately to scoff at those silly cinder blocks and watch as countless virtuoso performers take their rightful place among the ivory keys.

July 4, 2010 at 1:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a coincidence. I have the very same slogan emblazoned across the front of my boxer shorts.

July 4, 2010 at 3:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is a square of tiles on London's South Bank that play different musical notes from different musical instruments when you jump on them - so cool to watch people concentrating on trying to make music.

Love this!

July 4, 2010 at 5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i truly don't know art, but i know what i like. i like this tremendously! as always, thanks for being the best tour guide and director of tourism NYC never knew it had!

July 4, 2010 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

No much gloom and doom there.
Only in New York would you get a patchwork piano:)
Don't want to boast but I can play the first few lines of Melody in F by Rubenstein.

July 4, 2010 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger CiCi said...

How fun to have pianos on the middle islands in the streets and free to the public. I would really like to be near to hear people playing.

July 4, 2010 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Ponita: We have a piano in our house but neither daughter shows an interest in playing it. Yet.

Mama: It's easy to write posts like this when you have the source material I do.

kykn: I think that's what Neil Diamond had in mind. It's a metaphor!

Dolce: Sounds like the big keyboard in the movie Big. I like art you can stomp on.

Daisy: Too bad I can't work this into a well-paying gig.

Pat: That's a nice boast! I can't even play a serviceable rendition of Chopsticks. But I know a few chords on the guitar.

TB: At the pianos located in the more trafficked areas, like Times Square, there's often a line of people waiting for a turn.

July 4, 2010 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Leah said...

I'm headed there today to visit Kinokuniya with Hedgehog and will check this out.

July 4, 2010 at 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Rob said...

Arrrghhhhhh! Curse you! Neil Diamond ear worm, indeed!

July 4, 2010 at 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very cool. really like the piano art. now, if they'd also freestyle paint the pianists, i'd REALLY be impressed!

July 4, 2010 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Leah: It's a hot, HOT day to be in the city! But as long as you're in the neighborhood, it's worth looking for.

Rob: Sorry. But if I'm made to suffer, I feel you should suffer as well. It's part of the beauty of blogging.

Gnu: I think if you visit the website, you'll see more examples.

July 4, 2010 at 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't touched my keyboard for months (slacker!), but think I can still find my way around some Cole Porter. Wish we had a few pianos scattered around our town.Gotta love Nyark!

July 4, 2010 at 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

back again - this bugged me. what do they do when it rains? cover them with tarps or trash bags, or do they let them get wet? enquiring minds want to know...

July 4, 2010 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

MIT: I love Cole Porter. Would you mind practicing a bit and play into my home answering machine?

Daisy: This is from an article in the Times:

But pianos contain a lot of wood. Wood swells up in damp weather. And what if it rains?

Sing for Hope has a plastic tarp to pull over each piano and a “piano buddy,” a volunteer assigned to keep an eye on the weather and beat that cloudburst, just like the grounds crews at Yankee Stadium.

July 4, 2010 at 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Sid said...

God I hate you. This sounds divine. I wish Cape Town's tourism industry could think up something as interesting as this.

July 5, 2010 at 3:11 AM  
Anonymous nursemyra said...

Your mother has a lot to answer for. I just put Nick Cave earworms in my kids' heads. Some day they'll thank me for it.

July 5, 2010 at 4:18 AM  
Blogger Poindexter said...

What an imaginative art installation! How totally unexpected and stimulating for passers by that happen upon the pianos and have a moment or two to listen or even play. This rocks!

July 5, 2010 at 6:41 AM  
Anonymous nuttycow said...

Firstly, I lol'd at kyknoord's comment.

Secondly, yay, I can comment again.

Thirdly, that looks like fun. I'd sit there with a cup of coffee and a book and just listen.

July 5, 2010 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Very cool. I like that Matisse's grand daughter paints. I recently saw charlie Chaplin's grand daughter in a chaplinesque performance.

July 5, 2010 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Sid: Don't hate me! Or New York! Hate the Cape Town Arts Council.

Nurse: Are you sure yo want to put a bunch of Bad Seeds albums into their heads? Let me know how that worked out.

Point: It was, indeed, a fantastic idea. I didn't realize there were so many great pianists just walking around the streets.

Nutty: Welcome back. I am thrilled that you are able to comment again. You were one of the originals, you know. That counts for plenty in my world.

Ellie: I firmly believe that talent is rooted in genetics. You can massage it into greatness, but something has to be there to work with.

July 5, 2010 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

Magic indeed! And thanks for showing a bit of it each day on your blog!!

My kids were in the city a couple of weeks ago and played the piano that was located just outside St. John's Cathedral.

(They saw "American Idiot" and loved it!)

July 5, 2010 at 11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe, but I'd have to call collect!

July 5, 2010 at 11:58 PM  
Anonymous RubyTwoShoes said...

We had this exact same thing happen - play me i am yours pianos - for the Sydney Festival one year. It is wonderful hey? We even had one at my local swimming pool....

July 7, 2010 at 1:39 AM  
Anonymous daisyfae said...

a "piano buddy"? Awww... kinda like a pet sitter. i love that.

July 7, 2010 at 7:40 AM  

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