Jun 21, 2010 9:32 PM by Chris Welty
NEW YORK (AP) - Amid an urban orchestra of honking cabs, sirens
and jackhammers, piano lovers plinked out tunes from Bach's
"Minuet in G" to Elton John's "Rocket Man" on the first day
dozens of public pianos were placed at New York City landmarks and
parks for a public art project.
In bustling Times Square, on a traffic triangle in the East
Village and at a park with the Statue of Liberty in the background,
players flocked to the 60 pianos Monday as audiences applauded from
taxicabs and sidewalks.
"This is the first time I've ever touched a piano," said
Lynette Morris, a 52-year-old hospital maintenance worker from the
Bronx. She had just sat down at one of the instruments in the East
Village, situated at the top of subway stairs.
"I can't play but I'm going to try," Morris said.
Moments later, as construction trucks beeped and traffic roared
by, a more experienced player got his chance on the bench. New
Yorkers, who don't stop for much, halted in their tracks to listen
as he ran through classics like Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer"
and Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy," otherwise known as the
During his final number, "Let It Be" by the Beatles, a guy
manning a nearby coffee cart stuck his head out and belted out part
of the chorus.
"It's amazing how a piano, in the middle of total urban chaos,
will make everyone stop to hear the notes," said Dana Mozie, who
was visiting from Washington.
The two-week project, devised by British artist Luke Jerram, is
making its first U.S. stop in New York. The instruments are open
for public play from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. in most locations. Each has
a tarp in case of rain and has its own caretaker to unlock the
keyboard each morning.
A few glitches were reported as the project started Monday. One
piano had to be removed from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx
because several of its keys were damaged by eager children,
Other instruments had a few keys that didn't work, and one spot
in Brooklyn did not open at the promised 9 a.m., disappointing some
would-be players who arrived on time.
Jerram has done the installation in several other cities since
2008, including London, Sydney and Sao Paulo, but New York City is
the largest so far.
In Battery Park, Don Nathman, a retired music teacher from
Oregon, sat down and played Elton John's "Rocket Man," his white
sneakers pressing the pedals as a crowd gathered around him.
"I saw it and thought, 'Hmm!"' Nathman said. "Anytime there's
a piano I like to play."
When he finished, the group broke into applause.
The piano stood along a tree-lined pathway near the line for the
ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Children in summer camp groups passed by and couldn't resist
dragging their hands over the keys. One after another, tourists
stopped to play a few notes.
Eleven-year-old Nolan Bonnie, of Danville, Calif., sat down and
played Beethoven's "Fur Elise," Bach's "Minuet in G" and
another tune he had learned in his 18 months of piano lessons.
"That's about all I know," he told the small crowd.
It was harder to hear the notes in the heart of Times Square,
where Aaron George's rendition of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag"
was nearly drowned out by honking taxis and a fire truck siren.
"It's a little noisy," said George, who plays piano at
weddings in Clarkston, Mich. "But this is great. People need to
get more music in their lives."
George said he read about the installation online and came to
New York City specifically to play one of the pianos.
"I wanted to come here because this audience is huge," he
Pedestrians and passengers in passing taxis applauded and gave
thumbs ups to the performers in Times Square.
Gili Ely, 43, an Israeli tourist, stood listening to the music.
"This is the perfect place for this," he said.