Edmontonians invited to add the sound of music to the downtown core

EDMONTON – When you think of the sounds of a busy downtown core, the music of a piano may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s about to change in downtown Edmonton.

In hopes of bringing the community together, five pianos will be placed in outdoor public spaces over the spring and summer.

“This has been happening all over the world so I thought we could bring pianos to Edmonton no problem,” said David Rauch with OpenPianoYEG, the organization behind the initiative.

Rauch, who recently moved to Edmonton from the U.S., thought the pianos would be a great way to spontaneously engage passers-by. Anyone who feels the urge will be able to pull up the bench and tickle the ivories.

“It’s about fun. It’s about being being outside, having this kind of exciting chance encounter with an instrument and with people surprising you,” Rauch said.

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All of the pianos were donated, after Rauch put out a call online.

“I’ve probably received about 40 requests saying, ‘Take my piano. If you can get it, it’s free,'” said Rauch. “So I was really happy to take some of these pianos that might be kind of at the end of their life and give them one last hurrah.”

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The project is completely volunteer-led and donation-based. Students have stepped up to give each of the pianos custom paint jobs, piano tuners will tune the instruments prior to being open for public playing, and other community members have volunteered to maintain the pianos.

“We tarp them at night, we close them up, we make sure they try not to get wet. We have a slough of volunteers who are going to help make that happen,” Rauch explained.

David Rauch, R, paints upright pianos, along with student volunteers. Supplied, David Rauch

The first two pianos were unveiled Friday afternoon near the CKUA building downtown. Genevieve Savard, who works in the area, came to check it out during her lunch break.

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“I think that’s really cool,” she said of the project. “I think it would be really interesting for people who don’t have pianos and want to play them or they’ve never tried one before. Or they’re just good and want to share that with everyone.”

The other three pianos will be popping up in June and July. The Heart of the City Piano Program will be helping with those unveilings, giving students a chance to shine in front of unsuspecting audiences.

“It’s not just them being able to play more songs, but it’s the growth,” said Wenhao Sha, community outreach director with the Heart of the City Piano Program. “They become more confident individuals, they become more involved within the community.”

Sha says music has really helped shape his students into the people they are today, and hopes that will rub off on others through the OpenPianoYEG project.

“When we’re immersed in the daily hustle and bustle — the roads, the cars, the job — I think music really gives us a time to reflect,” said Sha, “reflect more deeply on who we are and who we are as a city.”

And whether you’re a beginner, professional, or have never played a tune in your life, Rauch believes the project will allow all Edmontonians to experience music in their own city, on their own terms.

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“We’re going to have some people who might know ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ and then we’ll have some people who know Rachmaninoff, or something amazing.”

For more information on the project, visit OpenPianoYEG’s website.

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