diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Royal Exchange pianoHave you seen one yet? One of the Street Pianos? They're dotted around central London, out in the open, waiting for you to turn up and play. 30 upright pianos, of the kind you might find in a church hall or a Victorian parlour, left out in the elements for the enjoyment of the capital's populace. Don't worry, they've all got a plastic cover for protection, so if it rains they shouldn't get soaked.

The project's entitled Play me, I'm yours, and the whole thing's a performance artwork devised by multidisciplinarian Luke Jerram*. London's not the first place he's tried this. Pianos have previously been scattered across Sao Paulo, Sydney, Birmingham and (oh yes) Bury St Edmunds. Apparently Bristol's next, and they'll be getting fresh instruments because all of London's are being donated to local schools and community groups. Assuming they don't all get nicked, that is.

You can find the 30 musical locations on the Street Pianos website. Each piano has its own page where you can see photos and post comments, and maybe even upload details of a keyboard-related singalong you've got planned. Don't worry if you don't have any music, there's a songbook attached to every instrument. All the classics are included - Hey Jude, The Lambeth Walk, I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing, Nellie The Elephant. It's lovely idea, especially if you can actually play, or sing, or at least drunkenly tinkle.**

The City's pianos were installed at the end of last week, so I trooped round over the weekend to see how they were being used. Here's what I found...

St Mary Axe (opposite the Gherkin): It being the weekend, all the local City workers had gone home and the piano lurked unnoticed beneath a tree.
Leadenhall Market pianoLeadenhall Market: Another weekend deadspot, but I found it easily enough outside a shuttered fishmongers. I thought I'd have a play, so I tapped out the first phrase of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head with one finger. My only audience was a workman up a ladder who'd been busy dropping paint scrapings onto the keyboard. Thankfully he failed to sing along.
Liverpool Street Station (main exit): I didn't find this one. I'd made the mistake of printing out the map on the website which led me to the wrong "main exit". Ah well.
London Wall: I didn't find this one either, because the pin on the website map was in completely the wrong place. If only I'd read the dedicated webpage before I left the house I'd have found it, but I didn't. Take heed, oh piano hunters.
Royal Exchange Buildings: Another piano not quite where the map said it was, but I found this one by the tube station entrance. So did a passing group of four European tourists who lifted the plastic cover and attempted to take arty photos of one another playing. They also managed a recognisable chunk of Do Re Mi.
Brown's (Old Jewry): This one's a grand piano, but it's a bit of a cheat. It's not in the street, it's inside a restaurant. It's only available to play between 9am and noon, before paying lunch punters arrive. And it's accessible weekdays only. I saw nothing.
St Mary-le-Bow Churchyard: Another lonely sidelined instrument, being stared at (but not used) by coffee-drinking punters in the cafe nextdoor. Rather more popular midweek, it appears.
St Mary Aldermary: Piano inside church. Closed Fridays, closed weekends, closed after 3:30pm (and closed during lunchtime services). Don't wait until the weekend to explore this project, you'll be disappointed.***
Paternoster Square pianoPaternoster Square: Blatantly positioned, and an object of intermittent interest. "Oh I've heard of this," said one woman to her significant other, before walking past. A couple of families stopped to allow their small children to climb up onto the stool and pretend to play. I hung around for five minutes, but no tunes emerged.
St Paul's Churchyard: Big churchyard, didn't find it, couldn't hear it either.
Millennium Bridge (north side): At last, a crowd. Piano + footfall = atmosphere.**** A group of boys had stopped by (more public school than inner city estate), and one got busy showing off his classical skills to the assembled youngsters. Piano + talent = rare. But he played nothing anybody else knew. Piano + singing = non-existent.

*This is not a Boris-inspired part of the Story of London Festival (Luke seems quite keen that people realise this).
** London's Street Pianos will be available for creative mayhem until July 14th.
*** Michael toured the City pianos over the weekend, and found them similarly underused.
**** The piano in Soho Square looked rather livelier last night. Could be a winner, this.

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