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Arts / Culture

Piano Music is in the Pinellas County Air

M.S Butler

Pianos are popping up on street corners, sidewalks and other unexpected places in Pinellas County. This is all  part of the Pianos in Pinellas program an interactive project designed to encourage public music and art throughout the county.

So, for anyone who is a music lover this is an opportunity to discover new talent right next door.. Plus any opportunity to say "play it again" is always welcome.

Project Director Colin Bissett of the Clearwater Arts Alliance tells us how the program got started.

"Well, it was originally an English idea, there was an English concept about it. Eight years ago, when a gentleman in Sheffield, England was moving his house and he had a piano. And his new house had some steps going up to it. Long and the short of it, they couldn't get the piano in the house, so they left it outside. Lo and behold people came by and started to play it."

And an idea was born, an idea that quickly spread.

"Well, an artist heard about it, a performing artist, and he thought it was a great idea. And, then he moved it to London, and it started big-time in London. It came to New York, Boston, Sydney, Australia, South America, and then around the world."

And the idea has been tried recently in Sarasota and Pensacola.

But, doesn't the Florida weather wreak havoc on these pianos?

"It beats Pittsburgh. I mean can you imagine this in Pittsburgh? No, this is great for them. Yeah it's a little cold but it certainly beats the rain. This is the ideal time to do it. It's around the holidays, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanza. So it's a good time for people to come out and enjoy themselves."

So, eleven refurbished and artists painted pianos were placed in secure, public locations around Clearwater. If you're walking through the area and you find a lone piano sitting around feel free to sit down and play. The project runs through December 31st.

Credit M.S Butler
A "Pianos for Pinellas" piano located in downtown Dunedin.

But, Bissett says this is more than just a good time around the piano.

"One other aspect of this is that we are having a competition. We encourage people to go along and play the pianos and have their friend go with them and video them playing the piano or indeed, playing the piano and singing. And then sending the link to us at PianosinPinellas.org."

All of this sounds like a nice community building event. But how many people will actually sit and play a vacant piano in public?

Taking a trip to Clearwater Beach might tell us more.
Sure enough there on a sidewalk, near pier 60, sits a lone upright piano.

In the next 30-40 minutes the only takers were the occasional kids or family stopping to tap on a key or two.
Then Birdie McClaine stopped by. He is from Largo and with his dog Ruby performs occasionally on the beach for visitors.
"I think it's pretty cool. Everybody stops by. It's like a community piano and people will really enjoy it."

Birdie says he doesn't play very much, but sounds pretty good to everyone nearby.

Then a few minutes later a young man passing by with his friends sits down and plays a little bit.And the chords of a familiar song start to emerge.

His name is Jeff White and in 2012 he was an army reservist in Afghanistan.
" I learned this actually when I was on deployment. They had a piano in the chapel and I would go in there once in a while and mess around. And then "Let it Be" was the one thing I picked up and enjoyed."

So he started to play, and everyone broke into smiles 88 keys wide. And if you listen carefully you can hear the sound of a passer by who stopped and started to sing along just for a moment.

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom, let it be."

It only lasts for a few seconds, but nobody asked for them to "play it again." Because sometimes things are just right the way the are.

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