Play Me, I’m Yours
By Luke Jerram
Celebrity Series of Boston
Through Monday, Oct. 14, 2013
The piano is decorated like a child’s dream — papered with dancing figures and uncoiled dragons. The upright Baldwin stands fully clothed, not a grain of wood peeking from under its fantastical wrapping. I found a sign for thearmyoftoys.com plastered across the back, and a postcard of Kermit the Frog waving at me near the pedals. I waved back.
This instrument can be found humbly marking the street in front of Belly’s Wine Bar in Kendall Square. It has many cousins scattered across the city: 75 pianos grace the streets from Boston Common to Franklin Park Zoo and Fenway Park. While each piano is uniquely decorated by various community groups, they all share a proud sign proclaiming “Play Me, I’m Yours.”
These street pianos are part of an ongoing project conceived by British artist Luke Jerram, who initiated this public installation in 2008. “Play Me, I’m Yours” has been to 37 cities since, with Boston being the latest on the roster.
According to Jerram, “The idea for Play Me, I’m Yours came from visiting my local launderette. I saw the same people there each weekend and yet no one talked to one another. I suddenly realized that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence. Placing a piano into the space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation and changing the dynamics of a space.”
Our city is home to the 1000th piano installed, yet the personalization of each moment — every piano and its backdrop wholly unique —makes “Play Me, I’m Yours” seem like a thousand distinct creations rather than an international movement. While Jerram and various cities provided the structure for these works of art, each community determines their piano’s function.
The piano at the Kendall/MIT station serves primarily as an instigator of discussion. Many seasoned commuters come to a full stop while staring at the flamboyant instrument, remarking on the piano’s playful Lego décor, while its sister in Kendall Square lends an air of romance to the restaurant watering hole. These instruments are allowing children to practice their Suzuki, masters to share their talent, and all community members to experience something that they may not have even touched before.
Perhaps the most fascinating observation is how quickly these pianos are becoming embedded into the urban landscape, their ringing tunes melding into the familiar cacophony of cars and conversation. In this grand social experiment, it is a pleasant thought experiment to wonder as to the underlying purpose of “Play Me, I’m Yours.”
Are we hunting for the next Mozart? This project certainly has increased the probability of a chance collision between talent and opportunity.
Or are we attempting to tighten the ties that bind us? Let the neighbors meet at the bus stop over Beethoven’s Für Elise.
Or perhaps we are simply reminding the public that strange and beautiful things do happen, that our daily commutes and habits still have room for the unfamiliar. While the pianos continue their journey on Oct. 14, I like to think that the aforementioned effects will be permanent.
For more information, including the location of each piano, please check out http://streetpianos.com/boston2013/.