Hop places pianos across campus
By Lauren Sarner, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, June 22, 2012
An intricately graffitied piano, propped casually on the lawn outside of the Blunt Alumni Center, has attracted many curious glances and prompted spontaneous music since its installation earlier this month. Monte Reed ’12 had just said his final farewell to Dartmouth when he spotted the piano and jumped out of his car to examine it more closely.
Reed, who sang in the Dartmouth Cords a capella group and won Dartmouth Idol this year, couldn’t resist sitting down at the incongruous, randomly placed instrument and playing one last song. He belted out one of Adele’s hits while he played. People passing on the sidewalk paused to listen before continuing on their way.
“The piano was popping, eye-catching,” Reed said. “You wouldn’t expect to see this here.”
The piano is one of 50 donated by local residents that have been placed across campus and throughout the Upper Valley as part of Hands on Pianos, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Hopkins Center, according to Hop programming director Margaret Lawrence.
“Pianos are expensive to get rid of when they’re past their prime,” Lawrence said. “I said, ‘I bet if we asked and if we covered cost of getting them and transformed them into something wonderful, we’d have a lot of takers.’”
Pianos had to be upright and in working order and were then painted by artists, who ranged from students to college employees to local grade-school classes.
Each is decorated with the message, “This piano is for you, whatever skill level! Go ahead! Play!”
Street piano projects have become popular in recent years, and with 50 instruments, Hands on Pianos is the largest project outside of New York City, according to Lawrence.
“It’s mainly in larger cities, but smaller communities have started to embrace it as a fun way to engage the whole community,” she said.
Thayer School of Engineering exchange student Alex Ziebell stopped at the piano simply out of curiosity.
“I saw it from far away and thought, ‘Is that a piano? It can’t be, it’s outside,’” he said.
Ziebell had attempted to learn piano on his iPad and was drawn by the chance to sit down and try the actual instrument, though he admitted that playing on the real thing is different.
The sign on each piano also indicates the program website, where viewers can upload pictures of themselves playing the piano. These are added to photo collections of the artists’ work on the instruments, the owners’ histories of the pianos and maps of the piano locations.
“Students and community members can add their own pictures,” Lawrence said. “It’s very profound and beautiful. It’s really great to see the human side of this.”
The pianos are still being installed, but the few that are out are already used frequently.
Hanover resident Justin Evans paused to play one of the pianos as he passed it after work.
“I think this is really cool,” Evans said. “I have a guitar at home that I hardly ever play when I leave it in its case. But when I’ve tried leaving it sitting out, I find that I play it a lot more.”
Pianos will soon arrive on the Green and at the swimming docks, Lawrence said. Hands on Pianos will also feature weekly special events, including sing-alongs and tuning lessons.
“I don’t play piano, but it stimulated my interest,” Alex Choi ’13 said.
Molly Hassell ’13 said that the pianos are perfect for Summer term.
“It’s in the spirit of sophomore summer to be colorful and lively,” she said.
Reed said he has heard his peers say that arts should be revived at the College, and the program is a big step in that direction.
The pianos will stay in their locations until the end of July. Artists will have first priority to claim the pianos they painted, and those leftover will be given to the Lebanon Transfer Station for Piano Adoption Day, according to Lawrence.
“We just hope students find them and use all of them,” she said. “It’s a nice way to get art and music out there and involve the entire community.”