Salt Lake City street pianos invite public to ‘Play Me’
Downtown SLC • Art project comes to Utah, adding music to ‘urban environment.’

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: June 15, 2012 07:25AM
Updated: June 20, 2012 04:19PM
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Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Sarah Shipp, Salt Lake City, plays one of the painted pianos to be displayed around downtown for the urban art installation "Play Me, I'm Yours," sponsored by the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

Mendelssohn mixed with the rhythms of traffic Thursday morning as the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art unveiled a public-art project that will put pianos on the streets of Salt Lake City.

Ten upright pianos, each painted by local artists, were set to be installed around downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday — ready to be played by the public as part of the “Play Me, I’m Yours” project, now through June 30.

“It’s a chance for the public to express their own creativity,” said Adam Price, artistic director of UMOCA. “The pianos serve as a canvas that allow everybody here in Salt Lake City and along the Wasatch Front to make their own contributions to the urban environment.”

“Play Me, I’m Yours” is the brainchild of British artist Luke Jerram, who said he got the idea at his local laundromat.

“I’d see the same people there every weekend washing their underwear, but no one would seem to talk with one another,” Jerram said. “There was this sort of invisible community of people occupying the same space but not really engaging with one another. And I thought that by putting a piano into that location, it would act as kind of a catalyst for conversation, to get people talking.”

Since beginning the project in 2008, Jerram has seen 500 pianos installed in 25 cities around the world. Similar projects start next week in Paris and Geneva. With each city, Jerram said, there have been amazing stories.

In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman who had worked as a cleaning lady to pay for her daughter’s piano lessons across town finally got to hear her play piano at a train station.

In New York, he said, a man was inspired to quit his job, load a piano on the back of a truck and tour the country playing in small towns.

In Sydney, Australia, two journalists met at a public piano — and Jerram recently received an invitation to their wedding.

And in Grand Rapids, Mich., a man decided to play the same note repeatedly for three hours, leading annoyed passers-by to call the police — who arrested him after they discovered he was wanted on an outstanding warrant.

At Thursday’s launch, Utah recording artist Paul Cardall got first crack at the pianos, playing his composition “Gracie’s Theme.” He was followed by students of Salt Lake City’s piano-education program The Mundi Project — including a fearsome rendition by 12-year-old Sarah Shipp of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G Minor.

Price estimated that the project will cost $40,000 in cash and in-kind donations — from the pianos (several donated by Daynes Music) to the logistics of moving them to the 10 locations around downtown.

Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, praised UMOCA and Jerram for “really helping to make downtown a more dynamic and diverse community.”

Price noted that Utah leads the nation, per capita, in piano ownership, so there should be plenty of Utahns interested in trying their hands at the downtown instruments. Musical groups — from choirs to rock bands — are invited to use the pianos for public rehearsals or an impromptu performance. Everyone also can take video or photos and upload them to a website, slcstreetpianos.com, for anyone to see.

“It’s this giant blank canvas for everyone’s creativity,” Jerram said.

spmeans@sltrib.com

‘Play Me, I’m Yours’

Ten pianos, each painted by local artists, will be stationed at locations around downtown Salt Lake City through June 30. Here are the locations, and the artists who painted the piano there:

Bennett Federal Building, 125 S. State St. • Carey Ann Francis

Celtic Bank, 268 S. State St. • Trent Call

Downtown Alliance, 175 E. 400 South • Jim Frazer & Suzanne Simpson

Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main St. • Constant Dullaart

Jones Waldo, 170 S. Main • John Bell

Kilowatt Commons Park, 135 S. West Temple • Parents and children from UMOCA’s Family Art Saturday program

Nordstrom, 55 S. West Temple • Holly Jarvis

Squatters Pub Brewery, 147 W. 300 South • Ben Wiemeyer

UMOCA, 20 S. West Temple • Paul Heath

Utah Arts Council, 617 E. South Temple • Sri Whipple & Jason Jones

Reception

An opening reception for “Play Me, I’m Yours” is set for Friday, June 15, at 7 p.m. at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 W. South Temple, during this month’s Gallery Stroll.

Composer and piano-biker Eric Rich, whose portable piano is a staple at the Downtown Farmers Market and other events, will be performing.