Person of the Week: Public Pianos Let Anyone Be 'Piano Man'

60 pianos in 50 public places: the brainchild of one artist connects strangers

ByABC News
June 25, 2010, 4:20 PM

June 25, 2010— -- Luke Jerram has given citizens the "keys" to their city -- piano keys, that is.

Sixty pianos have now been set up in 50 places in New York City, with people waiting patiently for nimble fingers to challenge them.

"We all come up with ideas fundamentally, but the important thing is being able to take risks and put them out there and see what happens," Jerram said.

Jerram, a British artist, took a big risk and found the rewards exceeded his wildest dreams. He decided to create an art installation of pianos in public areas.

'Big, Blank Canvas'

Jerram's idea has snowballed. Right now, there are 21 pianos around London. They've also been set up in Barcelona, Spain, Sao Paolo, Brazil and Sydney, Australia. New York's installation is the largest.

"The nice thing about this project is that it turns people like me, who just play piano at home, into public performers," he said. "The piano acts as a big, blank canvas for other people's creativity across the city, and that's really powerful."

It is a project as creative as people will make it. Jerram came up with the idea two years ago while sitting in his laundromat, noticing how quiet it was. No one talked to anyone else. No one smiled.

"I realized then there must be all of these invisible communities across a city, people occupying the same space but no one sort of engaging with one another," he said. "So I thought what about putting a piano in that place to act as a catalyst for conversation to shake things up, and it does seem to be working."

Kindness of Strangers

Two men at one of the pianos in New York shook things up, playing as if they'd been a duo for decades. They had never set eyes on each other before.

"This guy Jerram is so cool because he's freed it up for everybody, anybody can play," said Mad Dan, a piano player in front of St. Mark's Church.

Jerram's art installation is showing the kindness of strangers.

"People are all around, sitting, watching and that's really what music should be about, like spreading the joy of the people to them," Jerram said.