A last chance to tickle the parading ivories

auditioning_strings.jpg It’s hard to believe that the Pianos on Parade have graced the streets of St Paul (and one place in Minneapolis and at the airport) for almost two months. This weekend the grand experiment in public music-making ends as Keys 4/4 Kids roll the boxes back to their warehouse and repair shop in St Paul.

For Project Manager Kelsey Shanesy, it’s been a learning experience.

“We have learned many things!” she laughed when I tracked her down this morning. “We have learned that the pianos under overhangs fare far better than the ones that do not have overhands, that just have tarps.”

Part of the experiment was seeing how the 20 pianos dotted around the city would survive the elements, and it turns out that Mother Nature chose June and July 2011 as a time to set all sorts of record-breaking weather, none of it piano-friendly.

“We had a very tough summer for them,” says Shanesy. “If it wasn’t pouring down with rain it was, you know 98 degrees and humid, neither of which is very good for a piano. But many of them fared very well and they are going to continue to be working pianos.” She paused briefly before adding “And a few of them are now completely done. They have reached the end of their lifecycle with this project,” she laughed again.

Despite the odd piano corpse here and there Shanesy says the project appears to have been a big success.

“I’m really sad that we couldn’t leave it out longer,” she said, “Because it really seemed like at the end it really seemed to take off.”

Shanesy (below) says while the weather didn’t co-operate there was no human vandalism. Earlier in the summer she said she hoped the instruments would create moments of spontaneous community, and that seems to have happened time and again.

She says last weekend she attended a charity fundraiser where a young man played all 20 of the pianos, and also a concert at the Landmark Center piano where people gathered to “send good energy” to the victims of the Japanese tsunami.

20110706_pianoparade2_2.jpg“It seemed like the more we went along, the more creative St Paul got in using these pianos,” Shanesy said.

Nothing is set yet, but the idea was always to continue Pianos on Parade in the future. Shanesy would like to see more programming around the instruments, and maybe spreading them into other communities.

One of the remarkable things about the program has been the experience of unexpectedly hearing someone playing beautifully at one of the pianos. Shanesy says that it wasn’t that long ago that a piano was the entertainment center in many homes, and there are many people with great keyboard skills.

Piano music is really in our blood as a culture,” she said. “And having these pianos so accessible and out on the streets reminds people that this is a great way to connect with your fellow human beings, even if you don’t know that person.”

Movers will retrieve most of the pianos by Sunday. They will be examined, repaired and possibly sold to support the Keys 4/4 Kids mission of raising money for arts programs. Arrangements have been made for a few of the instruments to remain in place however for a few more weeks so you can get in you last few spontaneous concerts.

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