Public piano lets Beverly catch a beat on the street
The Salem News, Friday, October 17, 2014 | By Dustin Luca, Staff Writer
With only a sandwich board calling for willing volunteers to “play a little tune,” a new fixture downtown has started turning even the casual shopper into a street performer.
A full-size piano is the latest attraction in downtown Beverly, regularly on display in front of the Montserrat College of Art on Cabot Street.
For many, the piano is a trap. Throughout the day, pedestrians are caught in its web as they sit and play a few notes, then maybe a song if they know one.
Meanwhile, other bystanders stop what they’re doing and approach the piano, some even pulling out cellphones to record video.
The idea behind the piano was to take art out of the gallery and put into the public eye, Beverly Main Streets director Gin Wallace said.
“I saw it a couple years ago,” Wallace said. “I saw an article in a magazine about a program called, ‘Play Me. I’m Yours.’”
The program has picked up global attention. It puts pianos in public places like Times Square for tourists and local residents to play throughout the day, Wallace said.
The program was too much for a group in Beverly to afford, but Main Streets got permission from its creator to use the idea and put one piano on display with their own catchphrase, Wallace said.
The piano was donated by The Lynn Museum, and its display in Beverly was made possible through the work of several other organizations, according to Wallace.
One man has made visiting the piano a near-daily routine.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Beverly resident Charlie Perlo said. “It’s a wonderful symbol of the arts in Beverly and what the Beverly Arts District could become.”
Perlo, who also runs the city’s Solid Waste Management Committee, believes the piano is just what downtown Beverly needs.
“There are a lot of frustrated musicians in Beverly, both professional and otherwise,” Perlo said, “There are a lot of them in Beverly, but we don’t see them.”
It would be in the city’s best interest to encourage them, and the piano represents a step progressing toward that, Perlo said.
Beverly resident Dan Dwyer said music is a way to bring people together, as he’s seen in other cities.
“I have friends that live in the city, in Cambridge. They incorporated something like this,” he said.
“I’ve stopped at every one I’ve been at just to talk to the people playing.”
Two Montserrat students — Phoebe Warner, 25, of Whitinsville, and Dan Stone, 21, of Pittsfield — were commissioned to paint the piano before it was put on the sidewalk.
They chose a design where the colors of the keys run up along the piano and converge into much larger keys to give the instrument some more visual pop, they said.
Warner said Montserrat has been a sort of revival for the artsy side of Beverly, which she added has previously sat in the shadow of neighboring Salem.
The piano, however, is much more than art, according to Warner.
“Instead of it being something to look at, it’s something everybody can touch and enjoy,” she said, “It encourages people to be around. There’s no pressure to be perfect or be in a concert hall. It’s just, like, ‘here’s a piano. Make some noise.’”
The piano has added a layer to a larger conversation about buskers in the city, according to Wallace.
A busker is a musician who sets up on the sidewalk and plays music as people drop change in something like a hat or guitar case, Wallace said.
“Right now, it’s basically impossible for a busker to come and set up on Cabot Street,” Wallace said, “The sidewalks aren’t wide enough because you have to have three feet for (the Americans with Disabilities Act), then you have the parking meters and trees.”
A couple of city councilors are looking at what other towns and cities have adopted for busker regulations to possibly set up a permit system, Wallace said.
Meanwhile, city officials are continuing to build up their vision for Elliot Square, which already is a prime public performance space downtown, according to Wallace.
But any addition of space for performing will be a boost for downtown Beverly, Stone said.
“It’s one more step toward realizing that there’s a community that exists within all the hectic chaos of Beverly,” he said.
Above Photo by DUSTIN LUCA/Staff Photo: Montserrat College of Art students Dan Stone and Phoebe Warner, pictured above, were commissioned to paint the piano put on display by Beverly Main Streets earlier this month.
Published by College Relations Intern Josh Ramsey