Jun 29

Downtown Street Piano Series

by Downtown Calgary · 0 comments

Starting June 30th at Noon, join us Tuesdays and Thursdays through the summer for the Downtown Street Piano Series. The following blog post is from the series coordinator Kenna Burima.

When I was seven my mom bought a piano. I fell in love from the moment it moved into our home. I certainly hated it too at times when I couldn’t get it to do the things I wanted. I’m sure if I were to find that old Heintzman piano today, it would show my bite marks on the music rack (the ledge where the music books sits) I gave it when attempting to learn my first Mozart sonata.

The initial feeling of satisfaction of sinking my teeth into the wood in frustration was immediately replaced by feelings of remorse and shame. Even then, I knew pianos were alive somehow. Years later, I now think of lyricist Bernie Taupin’s words scrawled across Elton John’s piano housed in Calgary’s National Music Centre; “within this piano lays the ghost of a hundred songs”.

Pianos are alive but they also hold the past ghosts of all who have played them. Imagine how many songs have been played in the past three years upon the keys of Calgary Downtown Association’s Street Pianos? Hundreds if not thousands of people have sat down at those pianos and shared themselves; and not only with the pianos but with the people of Calgary as they walk her downtown streets.

To me the piano stands as the most universal of all instruments besides the human voice. There are certainly few people who couldn’t sit down at a piano and plunk out some sort of melody (as tuneless as it could be). That is why the Downtown Piano Series is such a beautiful thing. Regardless of if you can “play” or not, absolutely anyone is welcome, rain or shine, bright early morning or dead of night, to put their fingers upon the weather keys and express themselves through sound.

But there are those that can offer a little more than a tuneless melody. There are those in Calgary who have spent their lives seated at a piano, coaxing the evanescent expression of music from its soundboard and it is the Downtown Street Piano Series that attempts to showcase and celebrate the talents of those Calgarians.

It is my distinct honour to know many of Calgary’s talented pianists. Indeed, we are a unique breed. Much like any musician I suppose, we are a people obsessed with the distinct sonic qualities of each piano we touch. We have our favourites; the ones we revere in concert halls around the world, the ones we covet housed in the National Music Centre and the ones we lovingly caress in our own homes. But the street pianos provide the special opportunity to perform not only on pianos that have proven their abilities to weather heat, cold, rain, wind and sun, but to perform upon conceptual works of art.

Virtuoso piano builder and restorer Jesse Moffatt has given us three pianos with as artistic statements to match. The Woodlands Piano on the corner of 3rd street and 6th avenue SW. In the words of Moffat; “As the canopy in a forest filters light and provides protection to smaller trees and plants, the upper trellis of the Woodland Piano protects the instrument from the environment. Dense grasses and trailing plants provide another layer of protection as they cascade from numerous planters affixed to the piano. As a woodland canopy offers protection to the life beneath, so too can music act as a buffer to aspects of daily life. It is my hope that the enjoyment of music has offered some solace from the events of Alberta’s 2013 flood.”

We also have the Wee Little Piano and Book Exchange, located at Centre Street and 8th Ave SW in front of Saltlik.

“The Wee Little Piano Book Exchange is meant to provide a respite from the urban landscape,” says Moffatt, “a place where busy Calgarians and children alike can escape the inner-city hustle and bustle and lose themselves in music and literature. Sit down and play a tune, or open up the back of the piano and discover your next favorite book. As you walk past on your daily commute, feel free to grab a book (or two!), or to donate a few. As a father, and as someone who works in downtown Calgary, I was inspired by seeing people from all walks of life, including groups of children who attend daycare or school within the downtown core. This piano is designed to offer a place for all to stop and enjoy music… and perhaps a little story time.”

And lastly the Piano Bar About 100m north of the NE corner of 2nd Avenue SW and 3rd Street SW, also known as the SW corner of the Eau Claire Market ‘block’ “is an interactive design that encourages a social experience between the performer and audience,” says Moffatt. “Visitors can ‘pull up a stool’ to enjoy their lunch, get acquainted with the pianist, or view the inner workings of the piano through an acrylic window. This unique meeting space provides a spot in the downtown core to enjoy music and watch the world go by.”

These pianos are expressions of our city and they will for the upcoming summer months feature the diversity of pianistic talent this city nurtures. I look forward to celebrating these pianists and these pianos. Join me.

This has been a guest post by Kenna Burima. She is a musician living and performing in Calgary and is currently coordinating the artists for the Downtown Street Piano Series. Learn more about Downtown Street Piano Series.

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