Streetside pianos inspire, trigger emotions

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One of the decorated pianos on St. Paul streets this summer

MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Once in a while a story comes along that reminds you why you got into radio in the first place.

For me, Chris Roberts’ report on “Pianos on Parade”, a project that’s bringing pianos to St. Paul’s sidewalks this summer, was just such a story. Here’s an excerpt:

…A man slowly makes his way across the nearby Barnes & Noble parking lot. He sits down on the piano bench and stares out at the stores across the street. William Manuel stops by this corner often. When Manuel saw the piano for the first time, he felt a rush of memories.

“It brung me back to sitting in my mother’s living room, and looking at her piano and playing it,” he said. “It just made my mind just roam.”

“It made me just think about what I’m going to be going through today, and kind of eased my fears,” Manuel continued. “To see a piano sitting on the corner, letting me know that the area is not so wicked, so bad, you know what I’m saying?

“It made me want to close my eyes and make a wish, you know?”

Manuel is an unemployed furniture upholsterer, originally from Indiana. He’s lived in St. Paul for 13 years. He says his days are like pulling a lawn mower cord; they go up and down. Today, Manuel stopped by the Barnes & Noble Starbucks for a glass of milk. He fiddles with a crumpled styrofoam cup and rubs his eyes, then puts his hands on the keys and starts to pick out some notes he says describe his day so far.

For Manuel, stopping by the piano is like going to church. He says it puts sympathy in him, gives him hope, and makes him feel like people care. It triggers a lot of pent up emotions.

You can listen to the whole story, and hear a series of people play the piano, by clicking on the link below: