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Eric Shackle Writes: Public Pianos

...He sees public pianos as an important way to promote community harmony...

Journalist Eric Shackle tells of Luke Jerram, a British inventor, installation artist and science communicator, who is installing public pianos in cities around the world.

Here's a story which will make you realise the world isn't such a bad place after all.

Toque-me, Sou teu say signs stuck on free-to-use public pianos in Sao Paulo,

Play Me, I'm Yours, say similar signs in Birmingham, UK and Sydney,

Dozens of pianos placd in public areas in those cities tempt passers-by of
all ages to sit down and play their favorite pieces, for the benefit of
anyone who stops to listen. Delighted audiences soon gather, often dancing
to the music, or chanting the songs.

Public pianos were the brilliant idea of Luke Jerram, a British inventor,
installation artist and science communicator. He designs and builds science
exhibits whilst creating multimedia installation artworks in his home
country and overseas.

In March 2008, 15 pianos which had been professionally tuned were
installed, unguarded, in Birmingham, Britain's second city.

"There is one in the Rag Market, and one outside Cadbury World," Maev
Kennedy reported in The Guardian.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/mar/14/art "There is another
at Colmore junior school, where a teacher was persuaded into an impromptu
recital dressed in white gown with veil fluttering in the icy wind. She had
been on her way to her wedding."

Six months later, Jerram installed 13 pianos in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The
music-loving South Americans responded enthusiastically.

"At 1,000 each (a year's wage for some people) many people had never seen a
real piano before, let alone been given permission to play one," Jerram said
later. "The project made national news there"

Two clips from Sao Paulo TV:
http://www.pianosderua.com.br/index.php/materias-na-tv/ (speech in

Jerram invited online Sao Paulinos to tell him what they thought of the
pianos and to post messages and videos on his website One commenter, Auro
Augusto, wrote that he had heard a piano being played on a Sunday morning
at the Lux station ... Bach, Tchaikovsky. Then (as translated by Google)
The most incredible, something that would never think that, (never seen in
my 10 years of musical studies) a beggar (tattered and dirty, exhaled a
smell that instigated people to come out of that person close) sat at the
piano and incredibly started playing the first notes of the Moonlight Sonata
(Beethoven) ..

In January 2009, Jerram visited Australia for the Sydney Festival. He
arranged for 30 pianos to be bought, tuned, and installed in parks, public
squares, on Harbor ferries and even in a tattoo parlor, for anyone to play.
The novel idea drew raptures from the press, radio and TV, and proved to be
one of the most popular features of the festival. Thousands of pianists -
ranging from accomplished musicians to complete mugs - happily tickled (or
thumped) the ivory (or plastic) keys.

"Whether it's Chopsticks or Chopin, chances are you'll hear it on the
streets of Sydney this summer", said Rebecca Baillie in an ABC-TV 7.30
Report. http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2472506.htm

A youthful-looking Jerram told her, "I'm hoping these pianos will act as a
catalyst to get people talking to one another, to kind of connect people."
Sydneysiders' comments, videos and photos are posted on this website

Jerram is so enthusiastic about the project that he has set up a special
fund so that public pianos can be installed in "less wealthy" cities,
including San Paulo.

He sees public pianos as an important way to promote community harmony. "The
pianos act as sculptural, musical, blank canvases that become a reflection
of the communities they are embedded into," he says. "Who will play them
and how long they remain is up to each community.

"Questioning the rules and ownership of public space, 'Play Me I'm yours' is
a provocation, inviting the public to engage with, activate and take
ownership of their urban environment."

Jerram lives in Bristol, UK with his partner Shelina Nanji and children Maya
and Nico.

He has been described as "a colour blind installation artist, who fuses his
artistic sculptural practice with his scientific and perceptual studies."
He has an impressive academic career fully described in his biography.

Back in 2005, an article by Lewis Smith in The Times (London)
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article554336.ece was headed
"With this talking ring, inventor wins his girl." It reported:

"Luke Jerram wanted to avoid a traditional proposal, so spent three months
developing a ring that would play: 'I love you for ever. Marry me.'
"Once it was ready, complete with a miniature record player, he took Shelina
Nanji up in a hot air balloon and, while the pilot discreetly looked away,
asked for her hand. She is now his fiancee."

It seems that Luke Jerram is both a gifted and a gift-giving performance


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