Striking a Chord by Myles McGuire
The outdoor piano is a striking motif, both visually and sonically. Traditionally seen as a domestic instrument - an important source of family entertainment, at least until the advent of the wireless - its presence in a public space disrupts our notions of what a city should be. As anyone who has walked past Bunyapa Park to be serenaded by Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance knows, there is something curiously powerful in the image of two people, seated, playing and singing as if they were at home. Amid the clamour of a modern city it creates an oasis of sound, moving and surreal.
For Play Me, I’m Yours creator Luke Jerram, the power of the instrument to connect people sharing a public space was the genesis of an idea that has affected millions around the world. Conceived while visiting his local laundrette, Jerram noticed that despite the familiar faces he saw there, people rarely seemed to interact with one another.
“I suddenly realized that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence,” Jerram says. “Placing a piano into the space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation and changing the dynamics of a space.”
Jerram has brought Play Me, I’m Yours to fifty-five cities since 2008. Nearly two thousand pianos have been installed in these locations, typically decorated by local artistic talent. Partnering with local arts organisations has allowed Play Me, I’m Yours to be adapted to the personalities of each home city, creating an experience at once unique and universal.
The power of these pianos to create meaningful connection cannot be understated. “I like the way the project breaks down social barriers,” Jerram says. “I’ve seen old ladies teaching teenagers they’ve just met how to play a particular piece. I’ve seen a homeless man playing a piano surrounded by dancing and applauding business men. Several people have got married as a consequence of the project and it has changed many peoples’ lives.”
It’s fitting that Play Me, I’m Yours features as part of the Queensland Music Festival, an organisation committed to creating lasting associations between the enjoyment of music and the experience of community. Many of the pianos that will be featured around Brisbane have been decorated in collaboration with community groups, who will be able to continue enjoying the instruments after the installation is finished. One such group is West End’s Art Gang, a collective of artists who have experienced hardship including homelessness.
“The Art Gang are excited to know their artwork will feature on a public artwork that will be enjoyed by the wider community,” Program Director Sue Loveday says. “Even though the artists lead lives that are different to most, this project allows a chance for the gang to contribute and to be appreciated for their talents.”
It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one that will hopefully give people pause as dozens of these pianos appear across Brisbane in the coming months.
For more 20th Anniversary stories click here.