Saturday, July 08, 2006

Street Piano - feel free to play any time between 9am and 9pm

I bring you the second in an occasional series of piano-related stories.

Doug Pearman was a psychology student in Sheffield. In his early student days, he acquired a cheap second hand piano. As he moved lodgings, the piano moved too. But when he moved into Sharrow Vale Road, he couldn't get his piano up the stairs to his new flat. So what should he do?

His cousin, Hugh Jones was a Cambridge pure maths graduate, working as a kitchen fitter. (It's only an aside, but as a maths graduate myself, I'm not terribly surprised he didn't get to find employment that would make more use of his maths.)

Presumably having mathematically proved the impossibility of getting the piano up the stairs (another quick aside – but that reminds me of the sofa stuck up the stairs scene from Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) – Jones suggested that the piano should remain outside, for the public to play. He even left the piano seat.

Sounds like a student jape? Except that they've kept the street piano outside for three years. At night it's locked to prevent a repeat of the drunken Chopsticks that woke the neighbours, and covered in a tarpaulin to protect it from the harsh weather. Oh, and it was stolen one night, but after stories in the local press and television, a replacement second hand piano was donated and took over as the Sharrow Vale Road street piano, complete with sign:

STREET PIANO - feel free to play any time between 9am and 9pm.

In a discordant gesture, Sheffield Council recently ordered that the piano be removed. The local student population were joined by local children in a chorus of disapproval.

But thanks to the intervention of Radio 4’s Today Programme, who went to interview the council about this important cultural crisis, the piano now has a reprieve - and is available for anyone to sit down and tinkle its ivories on the Sharrow Vale Road in Sheffield. And even though Doug has now moved, the piano is being stewarded by the new residents.

And Danny WallaceDave Gorman’s friend and rival - has launched a (small) campaign for people to donate their unwanted joannas to street piano stewards, and bring music to a street near you. He’s promised to open the tenth such street piano.

You can read the full story over at the Street Pianos website. A shorter, but less accurate version greeted me in yesterday’s Guardian on the way – their correspondent Martin Wainwright's went up to see (and play) the piano.

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