Hopefully by now if you’re a resident of Chelmsford, you have seen and maybe heard the tinkling of the ivories of the community piano in the Meadows Shopping Centre in the middle of the city.
If not, please go and see it and have a play!
The history of community or ‘Street Pianos’ dates back 16 years and began here in England-Sheffield to be precise-spreading all across the world. The first ‘Street piano’ was thought to be Doug Pearman’s piano. Doug couldn’t get his piano up the stairs of his flat, and so he and his cousin Hugh Jones decided to leave it right there in the street, with a sign encouraging people to play it. The community loved it so much that when the local council wanted to remove it for obstruction a petition stopped the process, and when it was stolen, volunteers replaced it.
The power of the sense of community was not lost on artist Luke Jerram, from Birmingham, who subsequently installed multiple pianos across the city as an art installation. (Zamora,C. 2013) The concept has continued in various guises, and it is now not uncommon to see a piano at your local railway station or town centre.
So…..when a music teacher called me over to say “Lynn, this piano is about to be broken up and put in the rubbish-do you know anyone that could do something with it?” the task was set
The piano was in a bit of a sorry state-it was worn and no longer ‘held its pitch’ (I am not a pianist so didn’t know quite what this meant!) It was very darkly varnished and looked very sorry for itself. I have a knack for having big ideas and being sure that the logistics will sort out, whatever the hurdles-this was a case in point! A call-out in the Chelmsford Creative Collective group led to volunteers to paint, transport and house the piano whilst being painted-everyone loved the idea!
Andy Pinkney’s Transition was the piano’s home for 3 months! It was the perfect venue-a large enough area to move the piano about whilst painting, and the perfect community atmosphere which allowed people played the piano before it had even completed its transformation!
Once the piano was in place, the first task was to rid the piano of its austere black varnish to turn it into a happier sight
It was a messy job, but Candy Joyce and I worked hard at it and it started to look like a thing of beauty. We likened it to a lady having an all over body scrub to make her skin glow. It looked so much better already, I almost wanted to keep it like that. But! It wasn’t colourful enough for me – it needed to be ‘happier’!
The next stage was to apply a base coat, and this was achieved by help from more creatives-Jen Roberts, Kellie-Marie Sellwood and Carmel Green, who always bring a smile to my face – they brightened my day and put some of their personality directly into the piano that day. As well as helping to apply the basecoat, they came back the next day to help me to fit some posh new wheels for our lady to step out in style.
I can almost see the piano starting to smile at this stage!
Being a non-funded project, all of the paints were donated-they were a mish-mash of tester pots, emulsions, gloss and everything in between-which made it all the more fun to come up with a colourful design.
Speaking with some other creatives (particularly Lora Ziza) and putting our thinking caps on, we came up with the idea of the colourful sounds coming out of the piano, dancing along the bottom and the essence of the notes going back into the piano-like a circular cavort of music and fun! This meant that I could definitely make use of the array of colours donated to the project.
It proved to be quite testing to line up the design on the lid of the piano to the lower part -particularly because I chose to do something more complicated and wrap the design around the legs!
Each stripe took several coats of paint-some paints were more opaque than others.
Once the main design was complete, I needed to draw the edges of each of the stripes carefully with marker pen to ‘sharpen’ the design. I had to get myself into all sorts of weird angles to paint (reminder to self: return to yoga classes!)
Then to add the notes….
Dan Luckin is a local sign-writer and offered his services for free to make an official ‘plaque’ type design to recognise where the piano came from.
The final piece for me was to make people aware of all the help I had to make this project work for the community-what better way than to name them on top of the piano.
A few coats of varnish…….
And our piano was now officially a ‘Happy Piano’!
A happy piano deserves a happy piano stool right?
Once again, I put a call out to see if anyone had a piano stool they had lying about that they would donate to the project. A wonderful lady called Jenny thought she had one in her loft. Luckily, Jenny had a loft ladder so getting up there was not too much of a challenge for me. She explained that the stool was one she used to sit on to play piano for her parents. It obviously meant a lot to her and I’m eternally grateful that she was willing to let me use it for the project.
It started out looking like this…..
And ended up looking like this…….
I hope Jenny is happy to know that her stool has been put to good use-allowing children and adults-proper pianists and complete newbies, to have a little fun creating music as she used to do.
So, the piano was finished, the stool was finished…..now to move it to The Meadows! Easy right? Wrong! It was quite the logistical nightmare! But…..eventually, on a beautiful sunny day, Eleana, Jake, Candy, Helen and I managed to manoeuvre the piano on to a piano skate (with some degree of difficulty!) and Candy, Helen and myself wheeled it through Chelmsford City Centre whilst Jake filmed it-much to the amusement of members of the public. (See the video of the move on my fb page-Lynn Excell Art). Finally, the Happy Piano was home.
Sue Patel (Meadows Shopping Centre Manager) and her staff have informed me that every time they look on the security cameras, someone is playing the piano and this has been verified by numerous people sending me photos, videos and comments along the same lines.
There were so many people that helped in this project-from helping to paint, to lending the piano skate, to donating paint/varnish-I even had Kevin the piano tuner giving his services for free! It was truly a community project, and I am so glad to have been part of it.
To Anne Vernon-thank you for having faith that I could do something with a piano destined for the bonfire!
To see more of my work, please go to my website: www.lynnexcell.com facebook page: Lynn Excell Art or Instagram account: @lynnexcellart