DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The Wells Fargo Center, City Hall and Chinatown’s Central Plaza are not known as music hubs. That changes over the next few weeks, as pianos have been deposited at each location. Perhaps the only thing more unlikely than seeing the instrument with the 88 keys in these public locales is that they are available for anyone to play, at any time.
Ten art-adorned, upright pianos are on display in Downtown as part of “Play Me, I’m Yours,” a cultural initiative organized by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Altogether 30 pianos are on display across the city.
The Downtown Los Angeles pianos are decorated with everything from brightly colored polka dots to images of palm trees and bridges. One is clad in metal. They went on display last week and will remain up though May 3.
“Play Me, I’m Yours” was launched in 2008 in Birmingham, England, by British conceptual artist Luke Jerram. It has since been replicated in nearly two dozen cities from Barcelona to Cincinnati.
The effort first caught the eye of LACO Executive Director Rachel Fine, who was mesmerized by the project and thought it would be a fitting way to help celebrate Music Director Jeffrey Kahane’s 15th year with the organization. Kahane played at the launch event at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, April 12.
“It’s a project that everyone can relate to and a gift to the community,” said Fine. “It adds a level of humanity to our culture.”
Jerram’s initial concept involved placing pianos in high-traffic locations. LACO’s goals in choosing sites included bringing attention to performance spots and emphasizing accessibility. Each piano will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and anyone can sit down and play, whether they’re an expert or just want to hit a few keys.
Each instrument also has what Fine termed a “piano buddy,” who will ensure that the device is in tune and remains safe. The pianos, most of which were donated by the Hollywood Piano Company, are connected to cinder blocks or chained to nearby benches, just in case any potential player has the wrong idea.
A Life With Art
Grand Performances, the Bunker Hill concert programmer, is the host of the Cal Plaza piano, which was decorated in blue paint and polka dots by visually impaired artists at the Braille Institute of America. GP Executive Director Michael Alexander said the project mirrors his organization’s mission.
“We have proven over the years that people of every socioeconomic background want the arts in their lives,” said Alexander. “I think that it’s exciting when people in Los Angeles are doing something that they know other people in the city are doing and touching at the same time.”
“Play Me, I’m Yours” involves more than just plopping pianos in public places. Each instrument is uniquely decorated. In the project, which took a year to organize, LACO worked with more than 90 groups and volunteers.
Artists of all ages and skill sets were chosen to produce the artworks, and Fine said they were given few directions or limitations. The only restriction was not to paint on the keys.
Some pianos reference music and art. An instrument at USC decorated by renowned muralist Kent Twitchell has a pair of oversized hands playing a separate painted-on keyboard on the top of the piano.
Others reflect their surroundings. The Chinatown instrument is adorned with a dragon. The City Hall piano, designed by Silver Lake artist Danny Heller, features intricate designs of landmarks such as Angels Flight and, on the bench, an Art Deco version of City Hall itself.
Heller, who spent three weeks working on his piano, said he wanted to emphasize the history of Downtown. His instrument also includes a long-gone Victorian house on Bunker Hill, as well as the First Street Bridge.
“It was important for me that people were reminded that some of these beautiful buildings are still around,” he said.
There’s another component in addition to making music. Fine said participants are encouraged to upload video or photographs of themselves playing the pianos to the website streetpianos.com.
After May 3, Fine said the pianos, depending on the shape they’re in, will be donated to area schools and community groups. Once they’re gone, however, she expects that the memory, and the music, will live on.
“My hope is that everyone takes part in the celebration of Los Angeles as a destination for great music,” said Fine.
Locations of Downtown pianos and more information on “Play Me, I’m Yours” are at streetpianos.com.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2012